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Brian Brooks Moving Company performs in front of the Santa Barbara Mission as part of Monday’s 13-location “Dance about Town.”

I?m in Santa Barbara for the next week and a half on a kind of writing/dance-watching mini-retreat. I?m doing a last batch of revisions to the memoir by day and taking in Summerdance Santa Barbara, the best festival no one but the blessed citizens of this town has ever heard of, by night.

SDSB might be the most fun you can have watching contemporary dance within the Pacific time zone, as I was reminded during tonight?s open rehearsal at the black box Center Stage Theater. Brian Brooks Moving Company shared some of their latest vocabulary explorations, including a kind of fully supine sit-up that morphed into back arches and climaxed in a spectacular full-body flopping fish action across the floor. Keigwin + Company (led by former Mark Dendy dancer Larry Keigwin) presented a medley of their latest choreographic sketches, skating by in knee-high stockings, breathlessly reaching for one another to the likes of Stevie Wonder and Sinatra.

And Doug Elkins, whose New York company has sadly disbanded, proved that he has wasted no time during this last week creating a commission for the UCSB-based Santa Barbara Dance Theater. He said he?s been going through a divorce and that this work is the result. ?It?s better than stalking her,? he offered. The actual dance phrases were anything but self-pitying, particularly two duets: one rapturous and set to Bjork; one passive-aggressive, danced to the Beach Boys? ?Don?t Worry Baby,? and performed on two chairs, in four different variations. ?Every choreographer should make one chair piece so that he knows how to work with furniture?and so he can get sponsored by IKEA,? he said.

I wrote about his festival during its first seasons, when I was just starting out at the Santa Barbara Independent. (I also, for old times? sake, wrote a preview of the festival for the Indy again last week.) Back in 1997 executive director Dianne Vapnek brought Doug Varone, and the opportunity to watch him work was invaluable. I haven?t attended in five years, and as time passed I came to wonder whether nostalgia hadn?t colored my esteem for Vapnek?s efforts. It?s nice to discover that memory has served. As for why the festival?s reputation doesn?t cross the Santa Barbara County line, I have my theories. Los Angeles, two hours away, is not a major dance hub. Santa Barbara is seen as a resort destination, too pretty and laid-back for serious art. And don?t all the important dance festivals take place on the East Coast?

But Vapnek is giving all three New York-based choreographers ample time and space to create work this year, and so the impact of this festival will trickle back to the centers of the dance world. In the meantime Southern Californian dance lovers should know that a day trip is well advised.

Coming soon: Brian Brooks Moving Company and Keigwin + Company will each have a repertory show at the Center Stage, which I?ll review on this site.

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