Last weekend, Santa Barbara’s full-time professional modern dance company, Santa Barbara Dance Theatre (SBDT), performed Dancing Here Now, a show that consisted of three premieres as well as the revival of a piece by artistic director Jerry Pearson.
“Between Thoughts,” choreographed by UCSB faculty member Christopher Pilafian, started off the evening in a joyful, pastoral spirit. Eight dancers in sea green costumes created a glorious chaos of leaps and bounds and lifts that at times suggested the ocean’s swirls and eddies, or a flock of shorebirds chasing the tide line. A video created from an original painting by Pilafian, “Dragonfly View,” was projected onto the backdrop.
“Remedial Angels,” by Pearson, was introduced as his imagined scenario of angels in the process of earning their wings and struggling to attain perfection. Ron Smith’s lighting created an otherworldly mood, which was heightened by Ann Bruice’s pale gold- and silver-colored costumes. Santa Barbara musicians Tim Beutler and Nick Coventry composed the original score and performed it onstage with violin, piano, and percussion. Rhythmic and compelling, the music seemed to drive the dancers’ quirky movements, including inventive gestures and positions of the arms and hands to suggest wings. The use of props, including a cutout of a cherub that was “flown” back and forth across the stage and an arch descending from above at the end of the piece, were unnecessary distractions.
Pearson’s “Life Cycle of Trees,” originally seen in January 2008, returned for another appearance. Members of the UCSB Dance Company joined SBDT here, and the stage was filled with reaching arms and spread fingers, portraying branches and leaves, while video and still images of forests moved across the scrim behind them. While much of the unison movement was imaginative and intriguing, video imagery of axes chopping at trees with corresponding stricken poses by the dancers came across as heavy-handed.
A highlight of the evening was Pearson’s “Voice, Finding My.” Created through a workshopping process with the company members, it broke through the customary wall of silence between dancers and audience. At the start, each performer took a turn at an onstage microphone to share some details of personal history, and as the piece continued, they sang, shouted, and spoke. The accompanying music was rich in vocals, including those of Bobby McFerrin, Enya, and Sinead O’Connor. On the screen behind the dancers, text accentuated their expression and the singers’ lyrics. “Voice, Finding My” was humanizing, edgy, and refreshing, pointing in a new direction that SBDT would do well to explore further.