In the studio where Nebula Dance Lab is rehearsing its latest offering, five of Nebula’s seven dancers — including assistant rehearsal director Shelby Lynn Joyce, Megan Butala, Meredith Cabaniss, Juliana Farley, and company director and founder Devyn Duex — work through a complicated sequence in which they all move from upstage right to downstage left in a clump. The company’s seventh member, Megan Ragland, works through some choreography off to the side.
“We’re working out a storm scene,” Duex told me as I scurried to the front of the studio and sat down to watch. Several awkward moments and lots of group-thinks later, a series of clunky lifts and drops morphs into something smooth, elegant, and evocative. Running the two- or three-minute chunk, the dancers click from “marking” mode, where they’re just going through the motions to get the movement and their inter-relationships safely into their bodies, into performance mode, and the result is thrilling.
Such is the process of any dance company as it creates new work, and it’s clear within the first few minutes of observation that Nebula’s creative process is calm, focused, and highly collaborative. The work I watched in rehearsal was The Inquisitor, which is a lighthearted adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s short story “The Three Questions.” The main character, danced by Ragland, “is on a quest to find answers in her life,” Duex said. “She wants to do it all right and never make any mistakes. She goes on a journey with three friends and goes on a Wizard of Oz kind of journey. Her friends all overcome obstacles during the journey, and they’re trying to show the main character answers that way, but she’s not seeing … all she wants is to get to a hermit she’s heard is wise, and her plan is to ask him these questions.” Who hasn’t had this experience — looking for answers on some figurative mountaintop or in some other realm that feels like a real slog from wherever we currently find ourselves, only to realize that those answers have been under our noses the whole time?
For The Inquisitor, musician Adam Phillips has composed an original score, and the Mission Creek Trio will accompany the piece live. Sets are being designed and created by multimedia artist and company member Joyce.
The second piece on the program is Push & Pull, an ensemble study of the stages of grieving framed in the real-life experiences of choreographers Duex and Joyce. Having each recently lost a parent, the choreographers chose to build a work that acknowledges, embraces, and meditates on grieving — a process of healing that we undergo not only when someone we love dies but also when we go through any kind of loss or dramatic shift in our lives.
For Nebula, which was founded by Duex in 2010, the end goal of its existence is to provide opportunities for Santa Barbara area dance artists to explore and create. The Inquisitor and Push & Pull are just the latest offering of their ongoing mission.
Nebula Dance Lab Presents The Inquisitor and Push & Pull Friday-Sunday, October 9-11, at Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo. For tickets, call (805) 963-0408 or see centerstagetheater.org. For more about Nebula Dance Lab, see nebuladance.org.