Now in its second year, the HHII Dance Festival presented a black box tour de force of genre-spanning dance works from 21 companies over the course of three days. Festival director Devyn Duex sent out a call to artists from all continents and disciplines, curating a driven program that celebrated the conceptual and the lyrical, carefully stacking an assemblage of themes into a traditional showcase format. Not unlike George Herbig and Guillermo Haro (the two astronomers credited with the discovery of developing stars, and the inspiration behind the festival’s name,) HHII serves as a promising platform for artists in all stages of their careers to refine and define their creative voices. Below, is a highlight of the three-day festivities.
Click. Blink. Flash. Like phototactic insects circling restlessly around an energy source, In the Absence of Light (choreographer Joshua Romero) was a brilliant spectacle of flexing bodies and whispered movement, as dancers, using hand held lights to illuminate and delineate, shifted through pools of glowing spotlights in skillful formation. We are Made of Stars (Weslie Ching) was a methodical, patterned embodiment of humans as matter, a composite of limbs and energy flailing and lifting, as if at any moment the adept dancers could dissolve into an atmospheric state. Fleur (Carisa Carroll) was a delicate portrayal of growth and relationships, with expertly crafted costumes sometimes framing, sometimes shrouding the trio of dancers in a vibrant flurry of contemplation and red chiffon. The heart-thumping energy of Life Tempo (Alyssa Mitchel) leapt across the stage as Mitchel herself sprang and pounced in predatory-like fashion to an infectious, piano-driven score composed by her sister Olivia Mitchel. The Dance Network and Watson Dance brought refreshing humor into their entries, playfully interacting with the audience in two astutely choreographed numbers that brought a touchingly human quality to the festival line-up.
Performing over spoken-word poetry, These People Like Poems (Cybil Gilbertson) depicted a fiercely outspoken theme of political rebellion, a call to attention for the audience to interact with the ills of a culture obsessed with disposability. (Friday night’s performance featured dancers treading on The Independent and then shredding the issues — Sunday’s encore featured a different area paper, for we Indy writers were thankful.) Learning to Stand on My Own Two Feet (Lauren Chertudi) and Earth (Nicole Powell) presented a more grounded energy, the former summoning the intimacy of one-on-one interactions against the comforting twang of a banjo performed live by Sam Flynn, and the latter a beautifully stark, weight-bearing number invoking traditional circus adagio. Breathing Together (Janos Feledi) personified the unavoidable truth of emotion as art, and stressed the dichotomous relationship between misery and joy. Invasion (Louise Reichlin) was a thrusting, vibrant assault of motion, a piece in which entropy and corresponding movement were continuously fractured and restored, while Il Giardino di Fragole’s (Maria Rendina-Frantz) delicate movements embodied the power and tenderness of feminine energy. On all three evenings, Kiruthika Rathanaswami presented a trio of distinctive, traditional dances of India, an exotic and animated look into a foreign culture that highlights the festival as an emerging vehicle for multicultural dance.
HH objects are scientifically defined as “compact nebulae with peculiar spectra,” a classification that could easily describe a dancer in the early stages of the creative process, when work is developed in fits and starts over a daunting landscape of possibility. If Duex, with her boundless energy and tangible dedication, can continue to produce a cohesive platform, even as her artists and audience expands, then the HHII Dance Festival is poised to become an invaluable contribution to Santa Barbara’s commitment to the formation of stars.