Dancing Gauchos Shine Onstage and Off


Oxana Ermolova

“A dance major? So do you, like, actually dance?”

Though the answer might seem obvious, I have been confronted with this question on numerous occasions. It seems to me that our university dance program is a hidden jewel known only to an initiated few. So to clarify: yes, we do dance. A lot.

A dance major usually takes two dance technique classes a day, in modern and ballet, which amounts to three to four hours daily, in addition to performance rehearsals and regular academic classes (alas, even dance majors are not immune to general education requirements!). Plus, many opt to double major.

The product of such intense training was on full display at the recent dance concert The Sky to the Ground, which ran April 8-10 at UC Santa Barbara.The dancers, who auditioned for the opportunity to perform, have been preparing since the beginning of the winter quarter.

The Sky to the Ground showcased six very different dances, highlighting distinct dynamics of movement, interpretation of music (as well as its absence) and the dancers’ individual artistry. Four of the six pieces were choreographed by senior Bachelor of Fine Arts Dance majors, one by faculty member Ninotchka Bennahum, and another was a restored work set by a guest artist, renowned choreographer Jennifer Muller. The diversity of the pieces ensured that there was something for everyone in the audience to connect with, appreciate and enjoy.

The program opened in complete silence as a dancer confronted the audience with an omniscient, penetrating, otherworldly gaze. Such a bold opening established the choreographer’s commitment to artistic exploration while challenging the audience to think and interpret rather than passively admire the movement.

The dances ranged from a conceptual interpretation of Dante’s Inferno to a sumptuous duet that blended passionate flamenco flair with classical ballet technique, to a narrative featuring vampire-type, predatory creatures that are guided to renounce evil.

Beatrice Martino, a first-year Dance and Psychology double major who worked with student choreographer Pavel Machuca Zavarzina, said that the choreography process was a discovery every single time and a bonding experience for the dancers and the choreographers.

The program concluded with an excerpt from Speeds, a dance originally choreographed by Jennifer Muller in 1974. The restoration of this piece was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of American Genius. This excerpt showcased the enthusiasm and virtuosity of the Senior Dance Company, which will be on tour in Italy this quarter, where it will present Speeds and other dances.

Nancy Colahan, UCSB dance faculty member and modern dance teacher, said that Muller’s presence and the staging of Speeds were significant and provided an extraordinary growing experience, for not only the student company but also the audience.

So, you may wonder, what does it take to become a dance major? And is it possible, perhaps, to take dance classes without majoring in dance?

Well, incoming aspiring freshmen audition in January or February before they even know whether they are accepted to the university. Though it is rather challenging to get into this major after the first year because of the extensive technique class requirements, motivation is key. Some UCSB students have become dance majors in their second, third and even fourth years, according to UCSB dance faculty member and teacher Christopher Pilafian.

But if you are interested in taking classes regularly (for a couple of units and even a grade), do not hang up your dancing shoes and wallow in despair! A number of ballet and modern technique classes are open to non-majors.

Avni Bhatt, a first-year Cell Biology major, is taking a ballet class for a second consecutive quarter.

“I enjoy having the opportunity to continue with dance in a college setting, doing what I love on the side,” she said.

The next department concert will be the Dance Honors Project April 22-23 at the HSSB Performance Wing Ballet Studio ($3 suggested contribution).

Additionally, a Juniors Concert will highlight student choreography June 1-2. To buy tickets, click on the tickets icon at the department website or visit the ticket office.

More information about the Dance Program within the Department of Theater and Dance can be found at http://www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/.