In 1979, a group of Santa Barbara dancers pooled their creative resources to form the Choreographers’ Collaborative, a platform for the presentation of underfunded and underrepresented dance works. A performance model took flight, paving the way for an ever-growing assemblage of area creatives unified through a singular goal: expand an audience’s perspective on how cooperative art might be presented and digested. Last weekend, two of Santa Barbara’s longest-running collectives made a noteworthy case for the viability of such a wide-ranging formula, drawing the community in with a sizeable roster of artists aiming to reach across aesthetic and generational lines.
The social dance showcase known as BASSH kicked things off with a presentation of more than 75 student and professional performers in genres that included samba, hip-hop, and traditional Chinese dance. Now in its 17th year and holding court at the New Vic, what was once an exclusive glimpse into the city’s vibrant ballroom dance scene has grown into a celebration of strength through diversity, encouraging a familial atmosphere by layering young and seasoned artists under an inclusive arc of entertainment.
In Autumn Phillips’s “Rise Up,” the spectacle of circus adagio and shimmering costumes became instantly humanized through the earnest vocals of Dakota Lotus, a young singer who wove his way around the high-flying performers in a touching display of unadulterated optimism. Dancers Rebecca Li and Yin Lu dazzled in fluttering dresses and quick, syncopated hand gestures in Dragon Sun’s “Butterfly Love,” a gratifying balance of theatrical display and cultural reverence. The indomitable Hector Sanchez blazed across the stage in no fewer than five distinctive numbers (including the crowd-pleaser “Sambaliciousness”), proving once again that there are no discernible limits to his range and stamina. Bethany Sutherland’s “Tribal Instinct” was a tour de force of texture and technique, with eight powerhouse dancers displaying the galvanizing and unifying effects of movement in the absence of archetypical gender roles.
A few blocks south, the 15th installment of Cybil Gilbertson’s thematic, multidisciplinary collective known as Nectar explored the topic of rebirth and transformation in a quietly intimate program where musicians and dancers rubbed shoulders with visual artists, poets, and actors, each one using their chosen medium to recount a personal journey through discovery and acceptance.
In the dance film Park, Hannah Ruth Brothers presented an endearing series of contemporary, plein air phrases shot over the course of a single afternoon using little more than her iPhone. In “One Good Egg,” comedian Elaine Gale offered up a sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking recollection of her pregnancy goals. In “Songs to My Soul,” Cynthia Waring (accompanied by guitarist Brandon Battle) presented a delightfully crude antidote to the business of spirituality with stories told through the lens of experience and healing. As the evening came to an end, singer Zoe Guess (accompanied by the ukulele prowess of musician Ocho the Owl) reverberated the pressing relevancy of a community collective with a simple statement: “To be seen and heard is a luxury for so many people; thank you for taking the time to listen.”