Across the seven movement pieces presented within the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance’s fall dance concert, Within Existence | Existence Within, the audience was treated to a patchwork of visual and sonic narratives, tied together by the dance company’s impressive technical skillset and their ability to produce the visceral emotions of empowerment, intensity, and pain throughout their performance at Hatlen Theater.
The concert, directed by UCSB faculty dance choreographer Christina McCarthy, implemented the choreography from five senior dancers in the company, giving students the chance to showcase their unique movement pieces and touch upon a myriad of themes and stylistic choices within each performance. As the concert moved from one piece to the next, each choreographer’s vision came to light, while still managing to speak on the encompassing subject of humanism in modern society.
The concert began with Jaliana Apawan Semien’s piece, “Deadly or Heavenly.” It showcased eight dancers, seven of which appeared to symbolize the seven heavenly virtues or the seven deadly sins, with one dancer separated from the group as if deciding whether to be influenced by them. To complement this distinctive thematic choice, a range of music produced an auditory landscape of birds chirping, brimming with innocence, only to shift into thunderous, intense music, furthering the dichotomy between virtue and sin, deadly or heavenly, and overall creating an immersive experience for the audience.
Another standout piece was “Divine Feminine,” choreographed by Leia Zorba, where a group of dancers adorned in white gowns and elbow-high gloves entered the stage as audio played overhead of a man stating, “Women are weaker … ” Immediately following this, the dancers engaged in an energetic dance number, as if to prove the audio wrong, and to display their ability to execute flawless dance techniques while in gloves and gowns. At one point, a new audio recording played, stating, “Our ideas of gender have not evolved … imagine how free we would be if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” The dance concluded dramatically as the dancers synchronously threw off their gloves.
Zorba’s piece not only filled the theater with the radiant energy of activism and women’s empowerment, but also displayed the profound power that dance can hold for speaking on social issues.
The concert ended with a bang with McCarthy’s own movement piece, “The Letter,” which made use of paper as a prop to imitate the act of someone writing a letter. As the paper was passed from dancer to dancer, the performance spiked in intensity both sonically and visually. The power that unregulated words can have on society was elucidated as dancers acted out scenes of violence, from a 17th-century gun duel to physical fights. The intensity of the performance spoke to great lengths about the chaos that can erupt from the use of harmful language, and once again displayed the power that dance has as an artistic medium.
The concert also included interesting and eclectic movement pieces from student choreographers Bailey Dodgion, Jazz Hayes, Dalya Modlin, and UCSB faculty member Christina Sanchez, overall showcasing a diverse array of choreography. Each movement piece not only left the audience reflecting on its thematic implications, but also showcased the dance company’s ability to execute ranging performances that spoke to pertinent social issues.