In the late 16th century, social dancing took on a decidedly theatrical incarnation when Europe’s subdued folk dances were spun into a meringue-like frenzy of privileged pomp and taffeta bustles. Through the years, the gowns may have narrowed and demographics broadened, but if this weekend’s presentation of the annual showcase known as BASSH! was any indication, the art of ostentatious dance is alive and well-represented.
For 17 years, professional ballroom instructor Derrick Curtis has highlighted the quick-witted appeal of dancers spot-turning in perfect unison through his yearly production with the catchy acronym. In its early manifestation, BASSH! was strictly ballroom, with foxtrot, Argentine tango, and salsa taking center stage in the clubby atmosphere of SOhO Restaurant & Music Club. During its 12-year partnership with the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance, the showcase hit the bright lights of the Lobero Theatre, expanding its offerings to include everything from hip-hop to aerial dance to country line dancing.
Now holding court independently at the New Vic theater, BASSH! 2015 amped up its offerings to include a genre for every persuasion, packing in a colossal 22 acts from belly dancing to cabaret into a dazzling two-hour program. Highlights included the high-octane sizzle of Hector Sanchez’s mambo Encuentro, the classic circus adagio and hand-to-foot partnering of Autumn Phillips’s Between Two Lungs, and the syncopated smoothness of Kara Stewart’s lyrical Touch the Sky. Professional entertainers Vasily Golovin, Deja Re, and Tamarr Paul lit up the stage with easy confidence and punctuating technique, leading the audience in a chorus of hoots and howls as they blazed their way through spins and combos. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the venerable Karyn Laver, a pixie-cut force of gumption who moved seamlessly between sets of tap dancing, mambo, and hip-hop, her infectious vigor sending the crowd roaring in approval during her headdress-donning piece, Dance with You.
Though each genre offered a distinctive aesthetic, the common thread pulling more than 40 professional and student dancers together was the unrelenting energy pulsating through each act. To top off the evening, BASSH! honoree Steven Lovelace and his dance-partner-in-crime Mindy Horwitz worked tirelessly with area choreographer Robin Bisio to perform a touchingly vulnerable contemporary piece set to live music. Their masked faces and quiet honesty stood as a glowing reminder that the movement arts transcend time and archetypes, ebbing and flowing as energy and experience are inclined to do.
After the final curtain came down on another successful BASSH!, I imagined the maintenance crew on duty that evening, shaking their heads in amusement as they dragged push brooms across the stage of scattered sequins and stray marabou feathers. Then it occurred to me that regardless of generation or affiliation, each of us at moments could use a little sparkle in our lives and a little foxtrot in our step. Spectacle, after all, is why we come to the theater in the first place.