Those walking in the vicinity of Yoga Soup last Saturday night might have heard strain of an ambient soundscape emanating from the alleyway beside D’Angelo’s Bakery. The beguiling blend of electric guitar, xylophone, and handsaw topped by melodious female vocals was one of many wonders that comprised Love and War, the first in a series of performance art events dubbed NECTAR. About a hundred people turned out for the event, for which organizer Cybil Gilbertson drew together more than 25 professional or pre-professional dancers, photographers, installation artists, musicians, actors, and spoken word artists.
Interpretations of the evening’s theme ranged from literal to abstract. The miniature melodrama “An Ode to Raw Evol” pitted a band of warmongering creatures in black and camouflage costumes against a love team of pink-and-white fairies and their red lingerie-clad leader. Gilbertson’s “These People Like Poems,” set to Ani Difranco’s 9/11 diatribe “Self-Evident,” was a series of meaning-laden images: Starbucks-fueled SUV drivers tossed their paper cups out the window, cardboard Twin Towers toppled, newspapers were crumpled and ripped into shreds, and the whole mess got draped in an oversized American flag.
Death featured prominently in nearly every work, whether it was a song written for children dying in Africa or Londoners dying on their way to work, a ballad memorializing a dead relationship, or a monologue in which a deadening mindset was laid to rest in favor of a more life-affirming one. And then there were works in which the conflict was unnamed, such as “A True Love Story of a Story of True Love,” in which two young female dancers seemed to represent lovers driven apart, and “Time Feelers,” which featured two dancers bound together by a strip of white cloth: at once the source of their struggle and their connection.
As speaker and host Eddie Ellner noted in his introduction, there’s a frisson to both love and war that draws us in. In both cases, he posited, it’s about the thrill of creating boundaries and then losing them. From the performance art sequence and projections that opened the show to the night’s conclusion, NECTAR provided just such transcendable boundaries. With a plan to gather every two months, each time asking artists to respond to deep and difficult themes, NECTAR is offering Santa Barbara the kind of container that invites in more than it is built to hold, and revels in letting its contents spill over the brim.