Review | State Street Ballet’s ‘Evenings’

Santa Barbara Salon Dance Presentation Embraces Digital Media

Dancer Anna Carnes | Credit: Andre Yew

Amid the avalanche of performing arts cancellations we have had to endure this year, the loss of State Street Ballet’s Evenings program hurt more than most. An intimate affair featuring choreography by company members and presented in a cabaret format at the Gustafson School’s Gail Towbes studio, Evenings has consistently delivered exciting work in an atmosphere saturated with the camaraderie of dancers and their friends. This year, however, pandemic constraints sent the program in an entirely new direction. Beginning on Tuesday, December 1, and now ongoing, Evenings 2020 is available on State Street Ballet’s YouTube channel as a 45-minute program of dance videos. It’s a rich and varied offering that testifies not only to the talent of these dancers but also to their extraordinary resiliency; in order to create them, the artists had to master videography and editing, and they had to do so quickly. 

Amara Galloway’s “Spaced Out” kicks things off with a spectacular use of the Lobero Theatre’s front plaza featuring dancers Arianna Hartanov, Amber Hirschfield, and Noam Tsivkin. Anna Carnes follows with “A Sum of Parts,” which employed a very different strategy for obtaining video by asking dancers all over the world to share video they made of themselves. Filled with gorgeous duets between dancers and the sliding glass doors in their homes, and shot through with low angles, bare feet, and natural outdoor surfaces, “Parts” fulfilled the implication of its title by being much more than just “the sum.” Carnes and fellow dancers Meredith Harrill, Lilit Hogtanian, Marika Kobayashi, and Saori Yamashita each brought something unique to Lili Boulanger’s music, which in turn paired brilliantly with the elegant transitions that served to bring the whole thing together. 

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Ahna Lipchik’s solo “Paving the Way” set on Hartanov used Rosalía’s techno-flamenco music to comment on the disorientation we’ve all been feeling in this year of endless disruption. Perhaps the program’s most unusual piece, and certainly its most unexpected, was “Planning & Development,” which was choreographed by Carnes in response to a premise provided by the anonymous donor who commissioned the piece through SSB’s online auction. The piece uses dance to describe what was clearly a nightmarish encounter with Santa Barbara’s building codes and those who interpret and enforce them. Nicole Thompson’s amazing costumes made this surreal piece into something like a modern classic. James Folsom’s dynamic filming and editing also added to the overall impact of what will be remembered as an out-of-left-field triumph.   

Folsom and Thompson’s work shone even more brightly in the buoyant tour de force duet that followed. “Beyond the Sea,” set to Bobby Darin’s hit song of the same name, gave dancers Tanner Blee and Emma Matthews all of Santa Barbara as the stage for a romantic duet that ought to be required viewing for everyone in our hospitality sector. For all its years of vaunted beauty, I don’t know that Santa Barbara has ever looked better or more fun than it does here. Hartanov’s piece “Ephemeral Circumstance” gave dancer Julia Kamilos the run of the company’s recently built outdoor dance studio, and the finale, “No Use, Babe,” also by Hartanov, put the company’s Professional Track dancers to socially distanced work on an even more spectacular natural stage in Elings Park. It was an uplifting ending for an evening that helped all of us get over, at least for one night, the sorrow of a year in relative seclusion.

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