UCSB Dance Company
It is not every day that I meet a group of girls (and two boys) so dedicated to their lifelong hobby that nearly everything takes the backburner. I recently spent some time getting to know the students of UCSB’s Dance Company, a small group of no more than 15 seniors that began their journey with the Department of Theater and Dance several years ago as freshmen auditioning for a spot in the department. But this year the real adventure begins: starting May 1st, the hard-working students will embark on a two-week tour including California, New York, and Italy. And how do they feel about this impending opportunity? “I friggin’ need to find my passport!” one enthusiastic dancer, Yvette Johnson (21), chirps through bright, almost unbelieving eyes. Everyone is excited and no one knows exactly what to expect, but if anyone in UCSB’s Arts community has earned the chance to internationally prove what they are made of, it’s this close-knit group of the nimble elite.
Sitting in the background of their lighting rehearsal, a chunk of three or more hours set aside to perfect how the stage lights (and what color and what frequency and how bright and and and) actually fall on the young dancers in their chosen venue, I watched them fly through the air like it was nothing. This time they fly though the Ballet Studio within the Humanities and Social Sciences Building, and the lights fall beautifully. Possibly the most refreshing bit of the rehearsal is that there is no master and no slave: everyone, from the dancers to the lighting and design director to the choreographer him/herself, contributes equally what he/she believes works well or what does not. Company Director, Delila Moseley, sits in the exact center of the theater’s seating and lets the moving artwork unfold until her wise opinion is asked. “Yes, I think that looks lovely, but let’s just try [the lighting] at 50%” is one of the few things she advises for her eager-to-perform students, while their arms and legs move delicately through blue, red, and yellow overhead lights until the mood is just right.
What we see in a performance, whether dance or music or theater or spoken word, we like to think of as a finished product. If I had not been lucky enough to witness their lighting rehearsal, I may have been foolish enough to believe that, a few days later, I was witnessing a final, static piece of art when I watched them float effortlessly before their audience. A mere two days before opening night, these several pieces are living, breathing, adapting things. Lighting changes and tiny tweaks in the positioning of someone’s left foot are just a couple examples of how the “perfected” aesthetics of performance are constantly evolving between the bodies of several artists trying to create something beautiful together. And the beauty at the end of the day is only half the fun.
Watching these young dancers take direction and collaborate together, I felt as though I risked intruding upon a family that has spent years trying to understand and embrace the “ins and outs” of one another. While Vickie Scott, Director of Design Emphasis within the department, takes a second to master exactly how this or that light will bring the choreographer’s vision to life, the 21-to-22-year-olds play and laugh and joke and lift one another’s spirits, one dancer making bird puppets against a screen of projected light, one kneading out the inevitable knots in a dance-sister’s shoulder. Speaking to Genevieve Hand (21) about the Company, I asked about their rehearsal schedule (which is incredibly demanding, of course) and she mentioned that of the 13 or so seniors in the Company, at least eight of them were double majoring in other subjects, such as Biology, Bio-Chemistry, Anthropology, etc. These girls and boys, about to enter the very real world of professional touring, are gambling with time as it is to keep their academic course load under control, and yet they stay on campus until 11:00 p.m. several nights of the week to fulfill their choreographers’ visions and their own passion for dance. And it is such a pleasure to watch them each maintain this pointed control over even their fingertips as they lunge and fall; to be so sure of one’s physical limitlessness must be liberating, to say the least.
If you cannot wait to help support these young women and men, as I could not wait to spread the word about all their hard work finally paying off with this Amer-Italian tour, there is much you can do! For starters, don’t hesitate to buy four or five delicious brownies, donated in full by IV Drip, from the department’s concession stand at their next event: the Spring Dance Concert (April 12–14), featuring stunning original choreography by the students themselves. There is plenty of information about upcoming events at www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu, and this is also where community members and fans are welcome to donate to UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance. As Moseley said to me towards the end of their rehearsal, “It is so fulfilling to see them grow as artists,” and we, the community of performance- and lady-loving fans, now have the chance to facilitate that growth.