Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, the professional modern dance company in residence at UCSB, debuted “Unplugged” last year as a forum for the company’s dancers to show their own choreography. The group chose their name after a power outage took out the lights at their debut. Wednesday evening, the lights were on and the atmosphere was festive thanks to the live music of acoustic ensemble Fly to Blue. Once the show got underway, it was a headlong rush of energy and creativity.
In Ian McGinnis’s “Sacred/Mask,” a large group of dancers in shirts and ties joined in rhythmic stomping that became the common thread running through their varied and compelling movement vocabulary. “On Solid Ground” was a duet performed and choreographed by Blake Hennessy-York and Sarah Pon to Chopin. These two have danced together for years, and it shows in their easy grace and innovative partnering.
Marcos Duran’s two pieces, a solo for himself and a large group work that closed the show, both reflected his taste for fluidity and his subtle yet passionate choreographic style. “There Will Be Snacks” by Emily Wheeler, was a sweet ode to girlfriends, performed to a song by the same name. Misa Kelly’s solo work “My Flame Knows to Swim in the Cold Waters” started out with elements of strength, vulnerability, and struggle, but lost some of its original grace as it became increasingly gymnastic.
Cybil Gilbertson choreographed a group work, “Soy Toldiers,” and the solo “Skinny Long Legs.” A bewitching blend of personal memoir, breathtaking movement, and Fly to Blue’s live, original music, the latter work was performed by Gilbertson herself, and told the story of her beloved, schizophrenic Aunt Barbara. In a manner at once refreshingly innocent and wearily world-wise, Gilbertson wove the story out of words and strong, graceful movement. When she collapsed on the floor at the end and asked us all to honor a moment of silence for this woman, who passed away just last summer, “or anyone else who is suffering,” it was a moment that transcended art.