Eight dancers in gauzy white costumes stood with their backs to the audience, their knees bent in low plies. In silent unison, they raised their arms as if they meant to gather up the moon itself. This was the arresting first image of “Follow Me, Moon,” the opener to this season’s UCSB dance department concert and an unusually sophisticated work by an undergraduate. Sprightly Yvette Johnson and lissome, hyper-articulate Lindsay Slavik gave particularly outstanding performances.
It was an auspicious start to a show that continued from strength to strength, ranging from student to faculty work and touching on departmental history before returning to more current creations. “Swallowed by the Night” by student choreographer Olivia Mia Orozco was an ambitious adaptation of the myth of Persephone, the goddess abducted by the god of the underworld. This was a demanding piece for the dancers, and they delivered the drama. The dancing was dynamic throughout, eventually rising to an orgiastic fever pitch. Low-lying fog added atmosphere; the dancers whipped it into swirling eddies.
In “Global Eyes,” six dancers in futuristic Goth garb got angry, falling from a standing position into splits and slapping the floor, wrenching one another across the stage by the hair, and screaming. In this dystopian society, factions failed to get along. Instead, they thrashed around in fingerless fishnet gloves and engaged in provocative acts of torture, Matrix-style.
From the faculty, Valerie Huston’s “Summer Nights” was a jazzy group number that alternated between meditative tableaux and dynamic sequences. Ballet slippers, short black skirts, and white halter tops evoked the stylish simplicity of an earlier era, while the music of contemporary composers Daniel Bernard Roumain and Fazil Say lent the piece unusual depth.
The choice to include a work from 1983 in a show of otherwise contemporary work might have gone amiss, but these dancers brought professionalism to Jerry Pearson’s “In Our Own Image.” Wearing shiny purple unitards and using sticks and balls as props, they flowed from one group formation to another in a mesmerizing performance that was both a living history lesson and a timeless celebration of the human body.
Concert Director Christopher Pilafian presented “String Along,” a comic, cabaret-style quartet. Dressed in clownish costumes with rigid lapels, mismatched tights, and boxy shorts, the dancers jostled for the limelight and took turns hamming it up for the audience. They sulked and shimmied, walked on their hands, and upstaged one another repeatedly, right up to the finale when they chased a single dwindling spotlight until their heads were wedged together. It was a charming metaphor for the joys and strains of the performing life: something this year’s crop of UCSB dancers looks well prepared to tackle.