Center of Attention: CST Wastes No Time Bringing Back Live Performances
Who could have predicted dance as the art form that would dominate reopening at the Center Stage Theater? Sure, the “black box” theater upstairs in Paseo Nuevo has been a happy home for several of the local dance companies that produce their own periodic performances and has also hosted a few festivals featuring revues.
But it’s another thing entirely to produce its own four-day festival of hybrid live and filmed performances in front of a live in-person audience indoors to cap off a week that saw both Momentum Dance Company and Selah Dance Collective also mount their first post-pandemic productions in the space.
Not that the Re:Emerge Dance Festival was originally planned that way.
In fact, the long weekend of movement pieces, which is presented by CST and the UCSB Initiative for New & Reimagined Work, aims to be as eclectic a showcase as possible for the local or otherwise Santa Barbara-connected choreographers and dancers who have been working only remotely for nearly 15 months. It was meant to follow the then-current COVID regulations as a digital festival with only the dancers and camera operators ever setting foot inside the building.
In March, the event — then called “Welcome Back Dance Festival” — was conceived of as a chance for the dancers and choreographers to actually meet and rehearse in the same space, even if socially distanced albeit just to make a video version that would only be viewed virtually. The fest would have served as a bookend to CST’s online efforts in the early phases of the pandemic when its Digital Arts Festival offered virtual showcase space to choreographers and artists of all types.
That’s why the first evening is devoted to dance on film to spotlight those who didn’t want to switch approaches. But even those aren’t just a recording of a stage show, as the pieces include Robin Bisio and Katia Lepore Mrazek’s diptych of two solo performances at the beach, Victoria Finlayson’s “Out There” collection of solos that were choreographed and captured remotely over Zoom, and Ryan A. Howard of Psychopomp Dance Theater’s Sylkies shot on film rather than video.
“We were trying to lean into the art of dance film as something more than just a document of a stage performance,” said curator and artistic director Brandon Whited, an assistant professor at UCSB who also serves as the board president of the newly re-formed Santa Barbara Dance Alliance. “It’s a form we’ve all had to learn in the last year.”
Filmed works are also sprinkled liberally in the three successive programs, but each also features half or more works being danced live on stage. Whited said the themes, threads, or program arcs tying them together emerged from the responses to the call for submissions.
“I didn’t want to go into it with a set idea and then fit people into them. It was more looking at the pool and seeing the artistic aesthetic perspective behind the piece.”
So, Friday’s live program is a night of “Celebrating Community’’ that ranges from two partnered ballroom pieces danced by Vasily Golovin and Jatila van der Veen to Alexandra King’s belly dance piece “Pharonic Odyssey” to a group pap performance from The Dance Network called “Time to Start.”
Saturday’s “All Gaucho Reunion” features works by new and relatively recent alumni of the UCSB Dance Program, and includes a reprise of Selah Dance Collective founder Meredith Cabaniss’ “Infinite Corridor” just four days after its premiere at CST; plus “At Once” by Whitney Ross, set on a trio of members of SG Dancers who are all UCSB alums; Psychopomp Dance Theater/Shenandoah Harris’ solo work “Whale”; and three pieces performed live by the UCSB Dance Company.
“The students have just been working so hard all year, mainly in film,” said Whited, who witnessed the work first-hand. “We wanted to give the seniors the ability to do a live performance, too. Both of those evenings really represent Santa Barbara with all its festivals and different approaches.”
The final program, “Contemporary Perspectives,” is also the most adventurous, Whited said.
“It goes toward more experimental ideas or focused in the high art form of dance making. Even the films that are being shown are representative of contemporary dance, things that are not only in a less traditional format but also a little bit less presentational where the audience is merely watching a performance.”
Such is the case with Meredith Lyons and Gianna Burright’s duet called “A Study on Seeing and Being Seen” that represents a collaboration in choreography and performance, while Avila Joy Edwards’ “Rescue,” which features high school age performers, melds contemporary dance and live vocals.
As to whether responding to the pandemic itself shows up significantly in the 16 live and 22 films that comprise Re:Emerge?
“Since most of the works were made in the last few months at most, there’s an inevitable relationship just by nature of our experience in the situation,” Whited said. “But I think there’s only one film, ‘Danza Restless,’ that addresses it in a very specific way, partly because it was shot in an apartment and most of them worked over the web, and there are surreal moments maybe showing that your mind is going a little crazy being in that confined space.”
Fortunately, those days are behind us, and re-emerging with a dance festival is cause for celebration indeed.
Re:Emerge Dance Festival takes place June 17-20 at Center Stage Theater, 751 Chapala Street, upstairs in Paseo Nuevo. Tickets range from $10-$50 per program, or $30-$50 for a full festival pass. The performances will also be available for a limited run as video-on-demand starting June 24 priced at $11.50. Call (805) 963-0408 or visit www.centerstagetheater.org.
Dance Dimensions State Street & Nebula are Back
State Street Ballet has announced the backbone of its 2021-22 season that kicks off in October with a reimagined performance of the Tony Award-winning “Kismet,” produced in collaboration with the Santa Barbara Symphony and directed by Broadway’s Lonny Price (Sunset Boulevard, Sweeney Todd, Company). SSB will also bring back its full-scale annual production of The Nutcracker, a vehicle for its professional dancers and the talented students in its Gustafson Dance school in December and cap the comeback with the pandemic-postponed premiere of Sleeping Beauty. Visit www.statestreetballet.com.
Nebula Dance Lab hosted its annual H11 Dance Festival showcasing dozens of works over three unique shows via virtual streaming this spring, but Founder/President & Artistic Director Devyn Duex is beyond delighted to be able to debut the company’s brand-new work back live at the Lobero in November. Visit www.nebuladance.org.
Summer Solstice Begins to Bloom
Sadly, the main events of the Santa Barbara Summer Solstice Celebration weekend have once again fallen victim to the pandemic even as California emerges from restrictive rules. That means no live parade, which is the largest annual arts event in the county that typically draws crowds of more than 100,000 spectators, and no afternoon/evening festival at Alameda Park for continued revelry. Instead, there’s a virtual version that will screen at the Arlington on June 26, and a tinier ticketed gathering at Solstice’s Community Arts Workshop (CAW) HQ that night. On the plus side, there is a new Blooming-themed poster and T-shirt (designed by longtime local artist Wanda Venturelli), an extra virtual community parade to go along with the filmed version of the State Street shindig, and a whole bunch of preliminary events that spread Solstice sunshine all over downtown.
The last of three “Blooming!” fine art classes with Solstice artist Caroline Hambright takes place at CAW on June 20, when participants will paint flowers in different media — impressionist acrylic, detailed watercolor, and completely abstract mandala printmaking. 10 West Gallery is showing the Summer Solstice Exhibition for another month, through July 18, and several Solstice artists are doing pop-up presentations all over town. Highlights include Pali-X Mano’s iconic inflatable installation Rainbow Dragon at Mesa Bookstore, Art from Scrap, the downtown library, and Oniracom’s office; while Tessa Flanagan’s fun, interactive flowers of different shapes and sizes can be seen alternately at Paseo Nuevo and CAW.
Meanwhile, Kenny Galindo will be displaying his mini version of the Solar System with each planet scaled down in size and spinning at an accurate rate and distanced from each other according to scale; each planet will be situated at a different iconic site around town, 10 in all, which includes the Sun and the now relegated to dwarf status Pluto. The pre-Solstice events even come with a soundtrack as popular Santa Barbara DJ Darla Bea has curated a Spotify playlist called “The Soul of Summer Solstice!” that features more than an hour’s worth of tunes in celebration of the costumes, music, floats, troupes, groups of Summer Solstice. Get all the details online at www.solsticeparade.com.
Comedy Corner: Grin and Bear it
By day, Samantha Bearman, aka Sam Bear, is an empowerment coach and writer who boasts a master’s degree in behavior change from the University of Kentucky. But she’s also a comic who has competed for Jimmy Kimmel’s “Funniest College Student in America” and made it to the semifinals of the 2019 Ventura Harbor Comedy Festival and the 2020 Laughs Unlimited Comedy Competition.
Here in town, her comedy productions starring locals and out-of-towners are staged at venues small and medium in Santa Barbara, often raising money for such organizations as the Alzheimer’s Association, Planned Parenthood, and the American Heart Association. Next week the Bear Cave Comedy show is emerging from hibernation and virtual performances to turn Unbearable, the tiny bar attached to The Cruisery at 501 State Street, into a speakeasy off State Street to get into the funny stuff live and in person. Headliner Valerie Tosi is joined by stand-up comics Mack Beats, Maddy Mokes, Lauren Clark, Laura Peek, Ahmed Al Kadri, and Anthony Davis as well as Bearman, who between them have appeared on NBC, Conan, The Ice House, Flappers, Laugh Factory, Levity Live, Wildcat, S0hO, Velvet Jones, SB Comedy Hideaway, and others. The aerosolized laughs get launched starting at 6:30 pm on June 24. Details and tickets at www.samanthabearman.com/bear-cave-comedy-show.
The amateurs are also back in action, as Mel’s Lounge at 209 West Carrillo Street has resumed its weekly Open Mic Comedy Night on Wednesdays. Before the COVID closures, the bar also offered out-of-town comics and others working material for a show during both extended sets and priority placement. No word if that’s still true, but at least there’s still no admission charge.
Variety Shows in the Valley
The Santa Ynez Valley is soaring back to life with myriad opportunities for live music as reopening presages the official arrival of summer. Solvang Music in the Park returns June 23 with weekly concerts every Wednesday from 5-8 pm through August 25 at the Solvang Park gazebo, at the corner of Mission Drive and First Street, right on the main drag of the tiny Danish-themed village. Kicking off the program this week is local hard rock band Echoswitch, which probably might not get fined too heavily if they go past the closing time as Solvang Mayor Charlie Uhrig is a member. Local rock band Livewire is next up on June 30. Bring lawn chairs, blankets, and food for a picnic, or get a meal from one of Solvang’s nearby restaurants.
Old Santa Ynez Day, traditionally held in June every year, submitted for the second successive year to the pandemic. Instead, visitors and community members are invited to dance in the streets when the Santa Ynez Chamber presents its Artisan Market from 10 am-2 pm on June 19, at the corner of Meadowvale Road and Highway 246, across the street from the Lucky Hen Larder, 1095 Meadowvale Road. In addition to the market, pop-up performances include a collaboration between four young violinists from the Solvang Conservatory from 11-11:45 am at 1090 Edison Street; the Low Down Dudes from noon-2 pm in the Meadowvale lot; and The Agin Brothers and The Territorial Law Band from 2:30-4 pm in the parking lot of Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn at 3539 Sagunto Street. Visit www.santaynezchamber.org.
PCPA’s return to the Solvang Festival Theater is still a month away, but the open-air amphitheater has a couple of its own series to boast about. Hot, spicy Cuban and Latin jazz, including flamenco and popular Spanish songs from SitaraSon with vocalist Maestro Galarraga, launch the Jazz & Beyond Concert Series at 4 pm on June 20, in the Theaterfest Garden. Four more shows are slated for the same spot through August 22. Classic 1980s rock cover band The Molly Ringwald Project, who were regulars at SOhO before the shutdown, play the first of two (so far) “Local Favorites” shows in the garden at 6 pm on June 26, with the Valley’s own veteran T-Bone Ramblers, whose roots date back to Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in the mid-1960s, due on August 14. Visit https://solvangtheaterfest.org.
The Santa Ynez Valley Classical Music Series has also booked its first live show in 15 months as local pianist Robert Cassidy, whose teaching career is based at the Music Academy of the West in Montecito, and Ani Aznavoorian, the principal cellist of Camerata Pacifica, which holds its concerts at MAW’s Hahn Hall, perform at 5 pm on June 26, at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Church, 2901 Nojoqui Avenue, Los Olivos. The pair chose some favorite sonatas, including Beethoven’s “Sonata in C Major, op.102 #1,” Debussy’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano,” and the Brahms “Sonata in E Minor, op. 38.” Admission is free but donations are more than welcome to support the upcoming season of the Santa Ynez Valley Concert Series and the artists who will be performing at St. Mark’s throughout the year. The performance will be recorded and made accessible via the St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley website starting July 3. Visit www.smitv.org.