There’s something otherworldly about the main studio at the Santa Barbara Centre for Aerial Dance. Pieces of apparatus — the lyra, the trapeze, the corde lisse, and a range of colorful silks — hang from the high roof beams of the large open space, and in the evening they are filled with expert aerialists honing their craft and assisting one another in achieving new, unimagined feats. At the center of this whirling spectacle stands Ninette Paloma, the artistic director and driving force behind both the studio and Santa Barbara’s world-renowned Floor to Air Festival, an annual event that culminates this Friday, May 25, 7 p.m., with an evening-length performance at the Lobero called Sonnet of Limbs. “Fight for your height, ladies,” cries Paloma (who also writes for this paper) in rehearsal, and flying bodies respond by reaching farther up the silks toward the ceiling.
The audience at the Lobero Friday night will get a glimpse of what happens in that fascinating studio world without having to take their shoes off. The first half of Friday’s show links two sequences — “Peel” and “Dance of the Roustabouts” — into a kaleidoscopic portrait of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. “Peel,” which features Isabel Musidora, Rachna Hailey, Lucia Metcalfe, and Emily Stratton, is named for what happens when the fabric covering a corde lisse gives way, a sure sign that the rope has seen many hours of strenuous use. “Roustabouts” is an occupational term, in this case referring to the casual workers whose job it is to set up and break down the equipment at a circus. For “Roustabouts,” the four dancers from “Peel” will be joined by another eight performers, all just as adept at moving across the floor as they are at scaling the heights. It’s this intentional unification of aerial and surface-bound contemporary dance that distinguishes Paloma’s approach both as a choreographer and as a teacher. One form complements the other in a technique so original that on September 13, 2016, the United States granted Paloma a patent on her process.
After the intermission, expect an experience of unabashed beauty as the entire cast from part one is joined by the Santa Barbara City College Dance Company in a flowing suite featuring three sections, “Sonnet of Limbs,” “Aletheia,” and “Prelude to Illumination.” Fabrics and slings will be supplemented by ensemble work and an angelic passage by Olivia Powell on a special type of shining exercise ball that’s called a globe. The object of all this elegance in motion remains what it was at the outset — the attainment of unity between body and mind. “From the raw to the romantic,” Paloma explains, “that’s the way these dances will go.” The choreographic shift from honest sweat to rapturous sensuality symbolizes what the performers go through as they learn the secrets of this unusual and challenging art form. From hours of hard work and practice, a new and mystical connection forms between what Paloma terms “the heavy brain that sometimes wonders which way is up” and the lissome body that bears it aloft. To witness this magical conversion, be present when the flying begins on Friday night. —Charles Donelan
The 2018 Floor to Air Festival: Sonnet of Limbs takes place Friday, May 25, 7 p.m., at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or see lobero.org.