It could have easily been a scene straight out of Fame: a sea of metal lockers leading down a long, empty corridor, past trophy cases and hand painted banners, through large double doors spilling onto waves of newly shellacked auditorium seats. The curtain goes up on nine sprightly dancers, an explosive configuration of bare midriffs and gyrating hips lunging across the stage to the tune of a catchy pop song. When the writer Thomas Wolfe famously declared “you can’t go home again,” the Selah Dance Collective (SDC) wasn’t listening; over the course of a weekend, in a performance space not unlike the ones in which they’d spent years cutting their artistic teeth, a group of young dancers and choreographers captured the quintessence of a path toward growth and self-discovery.
Held in the newly renovated theater at La Cumbre Middle School, SDC director Meredith Cabanis lured audiences off the beaten path and away from downtown convention to present Flesh and Blood, a love letter for a new generation of dancers, and the recognition of our own impermanence. Joined by L.A.-based company Elke Calvert and Co. and members of the freshman UCSB Dance department, the program oscillated between playful innocence and palpable angst, capturing the sometimes conflicting forces these young artists contend with on and off stage.
To say that Cabanis is a determined presence in the community is offering up only part of the story; she’s also wildly talented, meticulously thorough, and refreshingly open to new perspectives. In the program’s title piece, Cabanis breaks down our mortality into eight distinguishing phrases, from the unnerving and methodical jolts of “Skin and Bone,” to the grounding forces of “Heart and Spirit.” The mounting voice of a young woman echoed through the theater, adding a spoken word declaration of our inescapable humanity.
In “Pillow Minded,” Calvert leaves the theater’s traveler curtain half-open, creating a fantastical portal filled with cotton nightgowns and bedtime stories, a tender look at the buoyancy of youth we try desperately to hold onto. One of the most touching moments of the evening was a solo titled “There Will Be Time,” choreographed by Cabanis and featuring the now all grown up Taylor Fisher. In 2010, a teenage Fisher turned more than a few heads with her spirited work in the Dance Alliance’s annual On the Verge young choreographer’s showcase, framing her body parts in self-determination while dancing precariously around a scattering of fairy lights. To see her now, dressed in an elegant tunic and moving expertly through a quick succession of athletic fits and starts, is to see a quietly confidant dancer explore the subtleties of her radiance, a captivating moment that underscored the burning emergence of a group of creative voices, awakened.