The first Santa Barbara dance company out of the gates after an unsettling sequence of community natural disasters, Santa Barbara Dance Theater (SBDT) rose to the formidable occasion this past weekend with a poignant and disarming program that juxtaposed personal and political tragedy with vigorous optimism and knee-slapping humor. Artistic Director Christopher Pilafian kicked off the evening with “Toggle,” an energetic burst of shapes and embers expertly depicting the vibrancy of the human life force and aided by the rhythmic dexterity of UCSB’s Music Department, before turning it over to the ladies — four guest choreographers whose work leaped off the stage in satisfying ebbs and flows of energy and voice.
Miche Wong’s “Apsara” revealed itself slowly with prophetic mysticism, using tribal gestures and the soothing imagery of artist Mary Heebner, and, without missing a beat, Nancy Colahan’s “Déjà Vu for Strings and Percussion” followed with mounting ferocity, its mesmerizing patterns of movement heightened only by the towering prowess of UCSB dance-company soloist Briana Markovich. Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “Requiem” was a baroque painting come to life, unveiling delicate layers of pain and aching beauty, with luscious costumes cloaking and comforting her five glorious dancers.
In Andrea Schermoly’s brilliantly absurdist “Moonscape,” SBDT’s four company dancers flashed their expert range, blazing through sections of quick-witted movement with unmatched confidence. Natalie McCall, Nicole Powell, Lauren Serrano, and Robin Wilson held firmly to individuality while maintaining a unified canvas for Schermoly’s striking technique, dovetailing a program that drove art’s healing properties straight home.