Established just a few short years ago, State Street Ballet’s Modern Masters series has caught the attention of the city’s dance scene by setting the company’s classically trained performers loose to experiment, choreograph, and have fun in the intimate setting of the New Vic. This season promises to deliver the most exciting Modern Masters yet, as the program includes seven works by seven choreographers and embraces the presence of dancers from two other nationally recognized groups, Eisenhower Dance Detroit and Visceral Dance Chicago. Alongside pieces by familiar names such as Autumn Eckman, Cecily Stewart, and Kassandra Taylor Newberry, audiences will encounter new work by Laurie Eisenhower, Joshua Manculich, Nick Pupillo, and Arianna Hartanov.
In addition to the guest choreographers from Detroit and Chicago, the show will feature a dramatic reunion of talent, as a former star of the State Street Ballet, Meredith Harrell, will be performing in Mad Skin, the piece created by Nick Pupillo for the company that Harrell now dances for, Visceral Dance of Chicago. Thanks to the persuasive powers and aesthetic vision of SSB’s Leila Drake Fossek, who arranged to have Harrell appear in Modern Masters, we will get a chance to feel the impact that the company is having on dance outside of Santa Barbara through the achievements of its distinguished alums.
The music for Modern Masters this year runs the gamut from Joni Mitchell to Ludovico Einaudi, and the emotional range of the works is similarly broad. Newberry’s “(con)version,” which is the one piece that has been featured in Modern Masters before, combines breakneck speed with spectacular athleticism for a choreographic thrill ride, while Stewart’s “WAKE” offers a poignant look at love and loss that’s drawn from her family history.
Arianna Hartanov’s “Verbatim” began as an exercise in SSB’s Evenings salon series and has since grown into a full piece exploring masculine and feminine energies as they manifest and blur across the conventional boundaries of gender identity. Laurie Eisenshower’s “As We Have Always” may be the most ambitious work on the program, with 12 dancers in all, four pairs from the State Street company, and one each from Eisenhower and Visceral. Expect canons, repetitions, and a profound meditation of the uses of history, both personal and public.
There’s something special about the way that the young dancers of State Street Ballet have taken to the Modern Masters format and venue. Consecutive nights on a weekend in May at the New Vic fits the style and attitude of this generation of artists, and the inclusion in this season’s program of even more forms and contexts from outside the traditional ballet framework promises to ignite the creative fires of all three companies involved. The decision to bring in Eisenhower, an established choreographer who founded her own company, and the move to ask Harrell back to show what she has been developing at Visceral both reflect a conscious choice to connect outward and to take full advantage of the way that the company has become an integral part of an international conversation.
4•1•1 | State Street Ballet’s Modern Masters is at Ensemble Theatre Company’s New Vic Friday-Saturday, May 10-11, at 7:30 pm. For tickets and information, visit statestreetballet.com or call the box office at 965-5400.