Thursday, February 23, 2017
The festive atmosphere of a holiday weekend, combined with the warm sense of community that’s always present whenever dancers and their fans gather, made a perfect setting for this President’s Day offering, which included three different but equally gratifying recent works of choreography. The opener, (con)version, by Kassandra Taylor Newberry, was last seen by a Santa Barbara audience at the New Vic in May as part of Women’s Work, SSB’s spring festival of new choreography. This snappy, sock-happy piece features a duo, Meredith Harrill and Thomas Fant, interacting with an ensemble of nine. It’s fast, it’s witty, and it looked better than ever on the broad Granada stage.
William Soleau’s Five by Gershwin showed the company at its most swinging and fluid. The format juxtaposed three pairs of dancers — Leila Drake and Ryan Camou, Harrill and Noam Tsivkin, and Deise Mendonça and Mauricio Vera — in a series of parallel duets, and thus augmented the jaunty exuberance of social dancing with the athleticism and precision of ballet.
Toward the end of intermission, while the happy crowd remained on its feet, chatting amiably, a lone figure appeared onstage and began to grapple with a bare branch. This was one beginning of Edgar Zendejas’s Rite of Spring. Another came a few minutes later, with the house lights properly dimmed, when the music began and the curtain rose just a few feet, exposing only the improbably dangling legs of the rest of the company. Hidden above the waist by the curtain, the dancers hung from a horizontal beam that ran the width of the stage.
Although invisible wires quickly whisked away the beam and the curtain, the surprise of this unexpected initial image lingered throughout this mysterious, deeply mythological composition. Working in large, complex physical associations, the 16 dancers in Rite of Spring conjured a world in which individual fate depends on the community. On some days you ride high, borne aloft by society; on others, you capsize. Yet even when your legs fly off above your head, you still depend on and remain part of the same crowd. It’s a powerful, if enigmatic lesson, and one that resonates both with the jagged modern music of Igor Stravinsky and the unsettled mood of our current moment.