BASSH One Giant Dance Party for All

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 22, 2018
(photo by Fritz Olenbeger)

Hector Sanchez appeared in so many of the pieces performed at last year’s BASSH – the theatrical showcase for local dance professionals and their protégés to show off their choreography in a wide variety of social dance genres – that one was thinking they might have to change the name of the two-decades old production to the Hectorama. But with Sanchez dialed back to just five of the 22 offerings in the program that will be presented three times this weekend at the New Vic Theater, we’re settling to simply savor a few words with the 25-year Santa Barbara resident who has been dancing socially even longer.

Sanchez, who is a student earning a degree in sociology at UCSB, also takes dance classes with Christina McCarthy and other instructors, adding contemporary choreography to his extensive repertoire of Latin dances.

“Dance is an outlet for creativity and freedom. I can express myself any way I want,” Sanchez said, explaining his love for the art form. “It’s a lifestyle in itself. You can create something just by movement. And it’s a great tool for school, because it makes my brain work differently and helps with memory. But to be honest, it’s just fun.”

The academic approach is also broadening his opportunities, he said. “Getting a lot of technical training in contemporary and ballet, more modern styles, has been really helpful for my dance.

Aerial dance became another tool on his belt a couple of years ago when he joined longtime partner Lauren Breese in Airedanse Collective. Between the two new styles, Sanchez in completely eschewing Latin dances at BASSH (which originally stood for ballroom, Argentine tango, salsa, swing, and hip hop) in favor of modern and aerial works.

“I intentionally cut back this year because I didn’t want to over-commit, given my other responsibilities,” explained Sanchez, who first danced at BASSH back in the late 1990s. “I’m so grateful and blessed that I have been able to participate so much for so long. It’s amazing that I’m not doing any Latin dances this year. I always loved Cirque du Soleil, so dancing aerial is really cool, even though it’s new for me. Dance is one of the few activities where you can continue to improve even as you get older. Anyway, I’m getting my Latin fix with the Salsa team at UCSB, which I founded.”

Conflict and resolution between couples define the themes for the two duets Sanchez choreographed and dances at BASSH, “Tomorrow” with Breese and “Real People” with a new partner, Claire Lindstrom. “There are moments of tension, but the love shines thru the whole piece.”

That sense of connection is a big part of the pull of BASSH for Sanchez. “We’re all doing the same things, sharing our creativity together. And when it culminates in the performance, it’s just great. It’s like a big giant family.”

(BASSH takes place at 7:30 pm Friday and 2 & 7:30 pm Saturday, March 23-24. Friday’s show includes the Santa Barbara’s Local Dance Heroes award tribute to veteran Santa Barbara teacher/producer Julie McLeod (Art with Out Limits, SB Dance Alliance, Dance Warehouse), while Saturday night’s performance is followed by dance party/reception on stage. Tickets cost $15 to $50. Call 965-5400 or visit

Animated Achievement: Hannah’s Santa Barbara Summer

Soprano Hannah Kidwell winds up her senior year at Chapman University in a couple of months. But first there’s a mini-spring break tour of Houston, Chicago, New York, and Santa Barbara, part of the prize she earned for winning the Marilyn Horne Song Competition last summer at the Music Academy of the West. Kidwell, who at 21 was one of the freshest singers on the Montecito campus in 2017 (and one of the youngest-ever winners), will perform in recital with fellow competition-winning pianist Christina Giuca at 7 pm Monday, March 26, at Hahn Hall, returning to the site of their triumphs last August. (Tickets are $10, free for children 17 and under. Call 969-8787 or visit

Q. Has singing opera always been your goal?

A. No. I have three older sisters, all of whom also sing, but we never studied classical music. But my mom played musical theater soundtracks in the house all the time, so we were always singing. My oldest singer decided to audition for opera at her college and got a role. She had so much fun with it that it trickled down into our psyches. As the youngest I got the most exposure to opera, and at 16, I saw a DVD of La Traviata and I fell in love. Knew that I was what I wanted to do. Since I was the only one left at home, my parents could finally afford voice lessons. Competitions led to scholarship at Chapman and then the Music Academy. It just fell into place.

What was it about opera that drew you in?

It’s a very strange art form (laughs). It’s not normal at all to sing opera, from the physiology – the way you have to hold your body and breath. But it’s beautiful even though it’s extremely weird. In these crazy stories about love and death – Greek tragedies retold with music in this extreme way – I think it reminds people of their humanity. So, it’s hard to relate to but also easy at the same time.

Were you surprised when you won the competition, or did you know you had nailed it?

No way! All the singers are so talented and have been working for so much longer than I have. The first couple of weeks (of the festival) were a challenge in just trying to navigate with the other singers who are really professionals. I was just trying to keep my head above water. On the day of the competition, I was actually starting to get sick, and I had to clear my throat on stage a couple of times. But I just did my best, which is what my dad always told me: Be the best you can be, and don’t focus on if someone is better than you. So, I had a lot of fun on stage and I guess it showed.

You’ll be singing the brand-new song cycle that Jake Heggie was commissioned to compose for you – “These Strangers”, with texts by Emily Dickinson, Frederick Douglass, Martin Niemöller, and Walt Whitman. Did he capture your essence?

I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s about the experience of refugees and immigrants, and about how we need to relate to them and do all we can to help. It’s about reaching out to your neighbors even when it’s not socially acceptable – a lot of psychological things going on. I have some Mexican heritage in my family, so I can relate.

How did you choose the rest of the program: Mahler’s Rückert Lieder; Turina’s Tres Poemas, Op. 81; Enescu’s Sept chansons de Clement Marot, and the three American songs?

I’d never heard the Mahler songs before last summer, but my friend sang some of them, and I was very moved. They’re about a singer who lives in their heaven because “I have my love and I have my song”. That resonates with any performer. I knew I had to sing it. I’m doing the Turina Spanish set because my voice teacher, Carol Neblett, who just passed in November, has given it to all her sopranos. It’s really passionate and connected to nature, and I come from a Hispanic background, so I wanted something to connect with that. Enescu is Romanian. Christina’s family is from there and she wanted something to connect to her heritage. We chose the American set together. She wanted the Cole Porter (“Looking at You”), I chose Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer”, because Ms. Horne sung it for years and I wanted to pay tribute. I chose Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” from West Side Story, both because it’s his centennial year, and my oldest sister won her first competition with that song when I was 5.

Are you excited about returning to Hahn for the performance?

Absolutely. That hall was made for singers and it’s beautiful. And when everything happened in Montecito (the wildfire and debris flow), if felt like the mud was going through my own home. That’s where I grew up as a musician, making my home in that hall. So, it’s nice to come back and sing there again.

Classical Corner

A different soprano and pianist twosome launch the Santa Barbara Music Club’s next free concert at 3 pm Saturday, March 24, at the Faulkner Gallery at the Central Library, as Takako Wakita and Betty Oberacker perform Italian love songs by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Wolfgang Mozart, Benedetto Marcello, and Ernesto de Curtis. Continuing the MAW connection, pianist Natasha Kislenko, who teaches at UCSB and is on the faculty at the Music Academy of the West, closes the program with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”) and Debussy’s La cathedrale engloutie and L’isle joyeuse. Visit

CAMA’s Closing Concert

CAMA’s International Series at the Granada “Season of the Maestros” comes to its conclusion on Wednesday, March 28, when Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.5. The 11-time Grammy winning maestro, a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, is the longtime music director of the ensemble in its 107th season. Violinist Gil Shaham, himself a Grammy winner and a Musical America “Instrumentalist of the Year” and a frequent Santa Barbara visitor, serves as soloist for the Berg. Call 899-2222 or visit

Making a Liszt, Checking it Twice

Nir Kabaretti conducts Santa Barbara’s own symphony over the weekend, performing a pair of concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon (March 24-25) at the Granada that feature two guests and a wide-ranging program. Ukrainian piano virtuoso Alexander Romanovsky performs Liszt’s first piano concerto as the centerpiece separating Britten’s age-defying symphonic tutorial “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”, with Deborah Bertling narrating, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. Tickets at

Dis-located at CST

Local dancers also perform at “Dislocate”, the fourth festival-style concert from Meredith Cabaniss/selah dance collective taking place the same weekend as BASSH (March 23-24) back at Center Stage, where BASSH held forth until two years ago. Cabaniss’s something like the desert is the centerpiece, an evening-length work that takes a journey into one’s personal wilderness, inspired in part by The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho’s famed fable about following one’s dreams. The piece considers where strength lies: in the moments where one confronts fear, or from a quieter place where the heart can speak? Also joining in the performances are emerging artists from elsewhere in the country, who will collectively showcase seven new works, including BLiPSWiTCH Smashworks (Austin), Dance Collective (New York), and Novus Dance Project (Los Angeles). Info at 963-0408 or

Star-Crossed Duo in Dance

In State Street Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, company artistic director Rodney Gustafson retells William Shakespeare’s poignant classic with his characteristic stylistic verve. Employing music by Sergei Prokofiev, Gustafson’s choreography is intended to intensify the drama by highlighting the most emotional and romantic moments of the iconic love story, pairing fast-paced action with moments that enhance empathy for the young lovers. The re-mounted ballet hits the Lobero Theatre stage on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, March 23-24. Info at 963-0761 or

Dance-off and More

Everybody Dance Now!’s winter performance (which takes place at 5:30 pm on Friday, March 23, two days into spring) brings together students, families, teachers, and other local dancers at the Santa Barbara County Education Office auditorium, 4400 Cathedral Oaks Road. The EDN! Teachers, The Village, Hollister Elementary, The Lighthouse, Breaking Mentorship Students, Canalino Elementary, Isla Vista Elementary, Casa De La Raza, Aliso Elementary, Brandon Elementary, Parent Dance Off and MC Omar, Bhangra Dance with Mihir and Shivani, Foothill Elementary, and Ellwood Elementary are all slated to perform in an event that also features a bake sale, a crafts station, and prize giveaways. Entry by donation.

“Nothing But Laughs”: Stories as Salute and Salve

It was just barely the middle of January when we talked to Dan Gunther about Speaking of Stories’s special “Nothing But Laughs” show, which was supposed to kick off the new series the following weekend at the Center Stage Theater as a themed tribute to Jay Thomas. But that was just days after the Montecito mudslide/debris flow, and the unfolding tragedy was of more concern than the upcoming memorial to Thomas, the Santa Barbara-based comedy actor (Cheers, Murphy Brown) and radio personalitywho died last August.

Indeed, Gunther, a longtime Speaking of Stories (SOS) reader, actor, and improvisation impresario noted then that he had just closed escrow on his Montecito home on Wyant Road, an intersection or two away from some of the hardest-hit areas, a scant two months earlier.

“It took me a year and half to sell – I feel badly for the people who bought it. And I can’t get in to find out if the house is okay,” he said, adding that his parents still have a home on beach. “I chartered a power boat to buzz out there yesterday to check on them. It’s such a tragedy.”

Not long after we talked, the enormity of the mudslide and the extended closing of the 101 freeway caused the producers to postpone the performances, which are now set to take place this Sunday afternoon and Monday evening, March 24-25. But even in January, Gunther was viewing the shows as an elixir for a community in mourning.

“People can probably use an evening of comic stories,” he said, noting that even though the performances serve as a tribute to Thomas – who was a frequent SOS participant – it’s not a memorial. “It’s entertainment. A chance for people to get their minds off of what happened. I can’t think of anything better than a night of laughter. I’m reminded of Preston Sturgis’s movie Sullivan’s Travels, which offered a great moral lesson about the value of entertainment. People in the direst of circumstances are smiling and laughing and getting their minds off of what ails them. You do a great service if you can make people laugh. Under these circumstances, this is what we have to offer.”

Gunther should know about the healing aspects of comedic theater. After all, he’s the guy who gave up a career in medicine for the world of acting and improv, and never looked back. “I know lots of unhappy doctors,” he said. “I didn’t want to be one of them. You get one shot in life. It’s that simple.”

Gunther and the other two Santa Barbara actors, Devin Scott and Rudy Willrich, will be reading stories that were once performed by Thomas during his tenure at Center Stage, where the actor’s comic timing always brought smiles to the audience. Gunther will read “Jamaica” by David Schikler, a domestic story told from a husband’s point of view. “It’s about his precious relationships with wife and family and how fraught they are,” Gunther said. “He’s coming from great gratitude, but no domestic interaction is easy, so therein likes the tension and comedy. The guy spends the entire story with his head stuck between various parts of a banister. So, it’s kind of funny.”

Gunther said “Jamaica” doesn’t require a lot of character work from the reader. “All you have to do is deliver it with a nice pace and stay out of author’s way. It’s so well-written, all I need to do is share it with the audience.”

Scott and Willrich are each reading stories by Stuart McLean, “Dave and the Dentist” and “The Phone Message”, respectively. Both were memorably performed by Thomas in the past. “All of us did shows together over the years,” Gunther said. “It’s always good to share the stage again.”

Romancers Reunite at RTC

Singer-songwriter duo Sylvie Davidson and Trevor Wheetman met while performing in Lonesome Traveler at Rubicon Theatre in 2011. Seven years later, they are returning to the stage together, now married and with a new duo album to celebrate. The couple moved to Nashville to focus on writing and performing in 2013, developing a style rooted in folk, Americana, and country, with strands or their relationship resonating in their music. Davidson and Wheetman – who are once again appearing on the main stage production of King Lear that opened last weekend and plays through April 1, she as Cordelia and he in the ensemble and as coordinator of onstage sound – share their stories and songs in a special show at 7 pm this Sunday, March 25.


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