Samantha Corn captured Stephanie Nugent's distinctive movement qualities in "Circa One."
Paul Wellman

Here’s what it takes to dance Stephanie Nugent’s work: Strong limbs and a solid center. Hunger for space. Willingness to look your audience in the eyes. Kneepads. A story to tell. Knowing what it means to struggle. A sense of humor. Guts.

At last week’s Nugent Dance performance at Center Stage Theater, seven dancers brought it all together. Many of these works had been seen in Santa Barbara before, but set side by side on a program with Nugent’s newest group work, “Small Spaces,” they gave a full picture of the choreographer-versatile in her approach, but consistent in her mastery of timing, detail, and the dynamics of human relationships in all their tension and tenderness.

For this show, the cast of dancers was drawn from Los Angeles, where Nugent and her husband and artistic collaborator Robin Cox relocated from Santa Barbara last year. Petite powerhouse Samantha Corn danced “Circa One,” a solo Nugent herself premiered in 2004. Based on a series of repetitive structures, “Circa One” builds from a mesmerizing trot to a desperate pitch before it subsides, and Corn captured Nugent’s signature quirks: the swiveling fists, the oozing shifts of weight.

Next was “Small Spaces,” a new work for five dancers featuring an original score from the Robin Cox Ensemble. Cox himself played violin, charging the intimate space with the kind of immediacy only live music can deliver. Against a backdrop of soft-focus film projection, dancers in shades of orange lurched from chaos to stillness and back again. Watching “Small Spaces” was a little like being a fly on the wall; the audience witnessed introspective solos, duets that verged on violence, ecstatic group revelry, and partnering suffused with loneliness.

If “Small Spaces” exemplifies Nugent’s keen eye for social interaction, “Untitled Interior” indicates a different vein in her work-an instinct to probe personal, even private, territory. Gauze screens served both to hide and to frame a single female dancer as she undulated in dim light. Naked from the waist up, she was at turns angelic, monstrous, and human, but captivating in every guise. The short program closed with “Bathers,” a romantic duet full of satisfying partner work and crowned with a sweetly unexpected end.


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