UCSB Dance Company at Center Stage Theater

They spent a full year in preparation, yet their final performance could have been tailor-made for the times. Last week, the UCSB Dance Company brought its repertoire to Center Stage Theater — an invitation for the larger community to witness their work. Before the opening dance, two company members walked onstage to acknowledge the recent killings in Isla Vista. Between each dance, they explained, there would be a pause for reflection, during which a pool of light would be projected on to the stage.

Thus, the program became a paean to life. From bursts of primal energy to passages of playful seduction, tributes to human courage, and suggestions of divine mystery, these 11 young dancers dove deep into their roles.

The program opened with Nancy Colahan’s “The Trancing Way,” a surging celebration of life set to tribal drumbeats. The work set a tone of buoyant ritual, which was carried forward in Hillary Bassoff’s “Still Waters Run Deep.” Wrapped in animal-print scarves, six dancers locked the audience in their gaze and crept forward on their knees like cats stalking prey.

If Bassoff’s work conjured feline grace, Colin Connor’s “Corvidae” called upon the spirit of the crow. Dressed all in black, the dancers swept across the stage, stopping to cock their heads and fix the audience with an unblinking gaze. Sometimes they flocked in unison before breaking apart to hop, shake, and flick their limbs as if shaking water droplets off their feathers.

Post-intermission, Alexandra Beller’s “This is where it ended” opened with a cast of nine clad in long johns and cable-knit sweaters. They stood in a huddle, their knees pumping up and down while their arms shot out, fists flying into empty space. Like sleepwalkers or puppets, they appeared to have lost command of their bodies, such that passages of delicate balancing between partners were freighted with breathless uncertainty.

Christopher Pilafian’s “Serpentine Spark” shifted the tone from strange to sexy, complete with red hot pants, bare midriffs, and a soundtrack of Earth, Wind & Fire. The culminating work of the evening was Lucas Hoving’s “Songs for Chile,” originally choreographed in 1981, and restaged for this company. Mournful yet stoic, the work celebrates the bravery of ordinary people in the face of extraordinary tragedy and hardship — a fitting metaphor for this community and these times.

And true to their word, after every dance, the stage fell into total darkness and then reappeared in a circle of light.


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