Santa Barbara Ballet’s Modern Masters is a crash course in contemporary dance
SANTA BARBARA BALLET: MODERN MASTERS
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday
Where: The New Vic, 33 W. Victoria
Cost: $40/$20 students
Information: StateStreetBallet.com or (805) 965-5400
This spring is turning into an excellent season for dance in Santa Barbara with another chance to see a specially curated selection of American companies, checking in with west coast, east coast and cities in between. The Modern Masters program—both tonight and tomorrow at the Lobero—features a night of seven works.
“This is more of a collaboration this year,” says State Street Ballet’s Leila Drake. “The arts really thrive off of partnership and teamwork. We have three companies sharing the stage, as well as two of our dancers with works on the program. That speaks to how the Ballet cultivates the next generation of dancers from within and give them a chance to explore their voice.
One is by Cecily Stewart, “WAKE,” who’s been choreographing for Modern Masters from the beginning. It’s a examination of “better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” Another is by Arianna Hartanov in her first work for the company. “Verbatim” is an exploration of the masculine and feminine sides of our identity.
The pieces were both performed as part of the ballet’s evening program in the wintertime, where the company present bare bones versions in the studio before later being produced with full costumes and lighting. “Both these pieces show an arc of what can happen if you’re give an opportunity in the arts,” Drake says.
Other companies are coming in for the program, and have brought new works. One of them is Laurie Eisenhower, coming in as a freelancer, and the other is her Eisenhower Dance Detroit, which she ran from 1991 until just recently when she passed the mantel. And now both company and its former head are in town, continuing the collaborative spirit she shares with the Ballet’s Rodney Gustafson. The two have been friends for years.
But “As We Have Always” is the first work that Eisenhower has set for State Street Ballet, and the first where she’s been able to work in person with the dancers.
At the same time, two dancers from Visceral Dance Chicago and two from her own previous company, are also working with her. “Getting all three companies together has been a joy,” she says.
The idea for “As We Have Always” is on the cyclical nature of life, that “as much as we try to blaze new trails, we repeat ourselves in history,” she says. There’s both frustration and comfort in that fact, she adds.
“You have to find your own way, one that pleases you,” she continues. “If I’m excited enough about it, hopefully audiences will be excited too. Instead of trying to think of what is different or how I can please the audience.” Dance cycles around just like fashion, she says. For the work she is using passionate musical backing by Ludivico Einaudi and Armand Amar.
Also on the program is “Moonlit” by Joshua Manculich, based in Chicago, but not a stranger to Santa Barbara—he’s made works for Santa Barbara Dance Theater as well. “Moonlit” is a duet set to Diane Krall’s cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.”
Autumn Eckman brings “Solo/Duo,” an “exploration of the dimensions of creative impulse, personality, and interpretation,” according to the program.
“Mad Skin” by Visceral Dance Chicago’s Nick Pupilo just had its world premiere a few weeks ago at Orlando’s World Ballet Competition. This is a very physical and dramatic work, says Drake. This will be Visceral Dance’s Santa Barbara debut, although one of their dancers used to be in Gustafson’s company. “This will be the first of many collaborations between the two companies,” she says. “This is how we build connections for the future.”
And the evening ends with one of Modern Masters biggest crowd pleasers from 2016, Kassandra Taylor Newberry’s “(con)version”, a very athletic, percussive, quirky work.
“I’ve been watching his company grow and mature,” Eisenhower says about Gustafson. “What he’s accomplished has been amazing. Anybody who can keep a company going to 25 years is amazing.”
The evening is shows what happens when everyone comes together for a common goal, Drake says: “Common goals, common styles, different dancers, different music, different body types, different nationalities. And we all share a stage. I think if the world adopted that we’d all be better off!”