UCSB Dance Company, José Limón and the lessons of history come to Center Stage

From left, Kristina Skrenek, Dante Corpuz and Mason Teichert are among the UCSB Dance Company members performing at Center Stage Theater. Steve Sherrill
From left, Kristina Skrenek, Dante Corpuz and Mason Teichert are among the UCSB Dance Company members performing at Center Stage Theater.
Steve Sherrill

To dance departments have homecoming? For the UCSB Dance Company, two upcoming performances at Center Stage Theater could be seen that way. The company just returned from a two-week, six-city tour of Europe where it performed works both classic — José Limón’s “There Is a Time” — and contemporary works, including Nancy Colahan’s new work for the company, and a Jerry Pearson multimedia work written for Santa Barbara Dance Theatre. Now, they’re returning home to share with dance lovers, feeling triumphant and not the least jet-lagged — they’re in top form.

Director Delila Moseley took stock of her dancers at the beginning of the school year, and — according to her friend, department associate and mentor Alice Condodina — recognized that she had a particularly strong group, adept at solos, all of them. And the dance that came to mind was Limón’s “There Is a Time” from 1956.

Based on a bible passage from Ecclesiastes, this dance offers solos and group sections for each line (“There is a time for everything… a time to be born and a time to die … a time to mourn and a time to dance…”). The music was written by Norman Dello Joio and it earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Limón’s choreography placed him at the time in the company of the other revolutionaries of 20th-century dance: Martha Graham, Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham. And the company has experience with Mr. Limón’s work, having performed his 1949 “The Moor’s Pavane” last year.

Ms. Condodina joined José Limón’s company near the end of his career — he died in 1972 at age 64. She was a ballet dancer at first, until modern dance shook her up. When she saw Limón’s work, she knew she needed to get involved, and it took three years of auditioning to get into his company. “I knew I was lucky, but I didn’t know how lucky,” she says.

“He broke every part of the body down as if it was an instrument,” she continues. “It was all based on breath and weight. It was a very organic era … It was not if you could do the movement, it was if you could become the movement.”

It was a time where so much change was occurring in the arts. Much discussion took place, and everything was very serious, according to Ms. Condodina.

But what looked radical then has been subsumed into the broadening language of dance. That’s OK, she says.

“Every 10 years, dance art is not even recognizable from what it was 10 years ago, and we like that.”

The company includes Grace Burdick, Nathan Burdine-Ortega, Gianna Burright, Elizabeth Cowperrthwaite, Jane Hamor, Maura Harris, Kalani Hicks, Jamie Kuljis, Sophia Larriva, Monica Moe Mulvaney and Kristina Skrenek.

Asked about that interaction between the young dancers and her mentor’s classic work, Ms. Condodina says, “Every one of the student dancers, they too have a past, they too are engraved with their own ancestry. Doris Humphrey used to say, ‘This is my movement. I give it to you. But you have never been before and you will never be again.’ ”

Performing old works keeps them alive and new, bringing the experience of the singular moment with them, says Ms. Condodina.

“If a work of dance art is great and has lasted in time, then surely there is something universal that artists would love to touch,” she says. “And if we touch universality we have a good chance to touch timelessness.”

UCSB Dance Company in Concert
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
Where: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $18-$23
Information: (805) 963-0408, www.centerstagetheater.org

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