Every year, the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance takes an active role in nurturing the next generation of dance makers with On the Verge, a program for teen choreographers. Last Saturday’s show at the Marjorie Luke Theatre featured some exceptionally strong choreography performed by a cast of accomplished young dancers.
Representing what is possible when a young person is supported to pursue her art, high school senior Robin Zelko received the alliance’s Youth Leadership Award. The audience got a chance to witness Zelko’s talent in two pieces: the sweeping, lyrical group number “Over the Pond” and the sassy, catchy hip-hop duet “Official Girl.”
Zelko was one of 19 choreographers participating in this year’s show—the largest yet. Big group numbers ranged from the high-energy street swagger of a younger crew in Claire Patterson’s “Every Body Dance Now” to Caitlyn Whittaker’s sexy, jazzy “Cell Block Tango” inspired by the Broadway musical Chicago. Among the evening’s most unexpected offerings was “Symbiosis,” a graceful aerial dance choreographed and performed by two strong and slender young men: Russ Glick and Harley Murray.
Setting a work on a group of dancers presents plenty of choreographic challenges, but it is solos that really test whether the movement can hold the audience’s interest. This year’s On the Verge included a number of captivating solos. Esme Irvine danced the only ballet number on the program, her relentlessly technical pirouettes complementing the electronic precision of Radiohead’s music. Sharae Sharp gave a haunting and memorable performance as a kind of Goth rag doll to a creepy, music box version of Britney Spears’s “Toxic.” Thomas Salgado Jr. was on fire in “Fuego,” tossing his jacket to the floor and dancing on his chair, while a string of Christmas lights lit the floor for Taylor Fisher’s sprightly tribute to self-determination, “Blast Off.”
It was when a pool of light came up on Heather Dell in a white slip and bare feet that the theater grew still and silent. “Images,” choreographed by Sarah Friedland, was a masterful study of a female character set to Nina Simone’s sultry a cappella. I held my breath as Dell’s hands fluttered like startled birds while her knees drew circles beneath her. It’s rare I want to see a dance repeated the moment it’s over; this was one of those.