As dance companies and studios throughout the city throw open their doors to debut a new performance season, a distinct note of melancholy can be detected in the air. Absent from our rosin-scented corridors, the wings of our dusty theaters, is the composed presence of our beloved Elizabeth Schwyzer, former dance writer for The Santa Barbara Independent and a cultural stalwart to our burgeoning dance community. More than a reviewer, her gift was in her poignant observation; her rapt attention to the architecture of the choreographer both on and off the stage. Elizabeth preferred to conduct interviews onsite, injecting her articles with intimate anecdotes about the rehearsal process, or the idiosyncrasies of the performers themselves. No venue was too small, no company too obscure; when Elizabeth detected the emergence of significant work, she was on her way to their rehearsal space before the ink had finished drying on their rental agreement.
When I first encountered Elizabeth, the dancer in her insisted on being immersed into the world of aerial dance before attempting to write about a genre new to her. This holistic approach — not to mention the mild lunacy needed to pull on a leotard and dangle upside down from the rafters — is the reason her presence at countless evening-length productions and weekend matinees garnered so much relevancy.
I will miss running into her at dazzling Granada debuts, sharing nostalgic recollections of where we were in life when we experienced our first Hubbard Street dance concert. I will miss her savvy ability to forge notable creative relationships by connecting members of our rich and diverse dance community together, her seasonal phone calls to our studio that always began with a direct “Soo, tell me something noteworthy.” But mostly I will miss her adept ability to slip into the psyche of a choreographer or performer, extracting the complexities of art with an authentic empathy of the methodical process.
I have no doubt that in her new adventures up north, she will continue to inspire and endear within her new arts community, bridging the interlude between audience and presenter, spectator and performer. And here in Santa Barbara, as stage lights rise to the sound of new work from our fervent dance community, we will be thinking of our dear Elizabeth, leaving a ticket for her at will call, for old time’s sake, in case she feels like slipping in before the lights dim.
Ninette Paloma is director of the Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Arts.