“I think Weslie’s work would do really well in Berlin,” said Nicole Powell, who is sitting cross-legged in the center of a quiet dance studio, her breath rising and falling after the end of a rigorous rehearsal. Stretched out alongside her are Nikki Pfeiffer and Shelby Lynn Joyce, part of a quintet of dancers commissioned by Weslie Ching for her latest choreographic production, titled Formal Devices. Powell continued: “I could just see her clear attention to detail fitting in nicely with a German audience.”
Those who have witnessed one of Ching’s systematic abstractions can understand the reasoning. Her adept ability to translate pedestrian gestures into a mandala of movement invokes a European quality that has set her work apart in a rising sea of Santa Barbara choreographers. “I’m really into math,” Ching laughed, only everyone knows she’s not really joking. With each calculated layer of formulas and counts, her dancers are tasked with a precision they describe as at once thrilling and terrifying. “I can’t say I’ve ever thrown my head back and just let go,” admitted Joyce, “but it’s the reason why I love Weslie’s choreography so much. She makes me work for it.” If Ching’s choreography personifies the complexity of an algebraic equation, then her dancers are nothing short of dynamic mathletes, bursting across the space with sharp vibrancy and remarkable focus. “Sometimes the work feels counterintuitive, which speaks volumes about the trust I have over Weslie’s direction,” added Pfeiffer.
The evening’s program will include a re-interpretation of Ching’s “The Entirety of Us,” a quintet based around the multifaceted spectrum of group dynamics, as well as “Corpus/Chorus,” an acutely physical and mesmerizing piece inspired by the principles of mechanics. The pièce de résistance is the debut of “Summer Eyes,” a touching solo performed by Robin Wilson that balances discipline and earnestness on the tip of a feather.
Also on the bill is fellow UCSB alumnus Jessica Kondrath, whose L.A.-based Jessica Kondrath | The Movement company will be debuting a work inspired by the weightlessness of space titled “Many Moons.” “It’s really important to me that I align myself with people and projects I can get behind,” stressed Ching, when discussing the growth of her burgeoning company. “My time is too valuable not to create significant work.”
Formal Devices takes place Saturday, October 7, 8 p.m., at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo). Call (805) 963-0408 or see centerstagetheater.org.