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Connecting Across the Pond

UCSB alumna’s research explores the concept of home through dance and current students.

By Sophia Fischer

When UCSB Dance Company students embarked on their annual tour of Europe in April, their first stop was in England to perform a unique piece created just for them by a UCSB alumna.

Gianna Burright ’15

Anywhere I Can See the Moon was developed by Gianna Burright ’15, an MFA choreography candidate at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. UCSB dancers spent three days at Burright’s conservatory where they performed her piece as well as others and taught and participated in master classes. It was the first time a UCSB alumnus had developed a piece specifically for the Dance Company. The result was met with appreciation by the London audience.

“One thing I heard a lot was, ‘Wow, those dancers are extremely talented to be able to shift between such diverse pieces and varying themes,’” Burright said.

In Anywhere I Can See The Moon, dancers explore the concept of home which Burright says can be more than a physical place. Home can also be found in a letter, in a hug from a friend, in an embrace from a loved one, or in an intimate moment with nature or a landmark.

“When you graduate from college, you most likely have only had two homes- your parents’ and your college home, and now you’re confronting this question of where is home going to be next? It’s terrifying but exciting. I was interested in channeling that energy,” Burright said.

When she first brought the idea of a collaboration to the UCSB Dance Company in support of her MFA research on weight transfer in dance she didn’t expect faculty to say yes to her proposal.

“I’m a young choreographer, I had gone to school with members of the company, and most were sophomores when I graduated,” said Burright, who earned a BFA with honors in dance at UCSB.

UCSB Dance Company Director Delila Moseley M.A. ’84 liked Burright’s idea.

“It seemed like a good connection to where Gianna came from, to see how she had grown and what she could bring back,” Moseley said. “It was a shot in the dark, a leap of faith, but she was a promising choreographer when she was here. It was an intriguing challenge for the dancers.”

Collaboration began in November of 2016. Burright returned to UCSB to work directly with dancers over eight days. Anywhere I Can See the Moon challenged the company in the emotional investment required and the relationships between the dancers themselves, said Moseley.

“It’s abstract and requires feeling the support of each other to make it feel more homelike. There’s a lot of weight transfer and carrying each other, more so than you might see in other dance,” Moseley said.

The performance included dancers’ voices recorded over the music exploring the potential for where home could be and where they currently find home alongside their ongoing desires to pursue careers in the arts.

“Going onstage and hearing myself say, ‘You can be in Europe and have a home. You can be in the United States and have a home. Home isn’t just one place,’ was really cool because it was like a reminder that I have a home in dance and in my colleagues, not just in my apartment in I.V.,” said Rebecca Elster ’17.

Holly Warner ’17 opened the dance with a solo created through the sharing of both her and Burright’s ideas.

“Because we created in this highly collaborative way, I have found more opportunities to let the choreography grow as time passes,” Warner remarked. “We’ve performed this dance many times in the past six months, but each time I draw out new elements to revitalize my experience within the dance.”

The London visit was part of Moseley’s philosophy of broadening students’ skill through touring, a tradition begun by former UCSB Dance Company director and professor emeritus Alice Condodina. Condodina directed the Repertory-West Dance Company in the Department of Theater and Dance for 20 years. Moseley danced with that company for 10 years and has directed the UCSB Dance Company for over 25 years. Touring raises dancers’ level of professionalism, Moseley said, and for many, it is their first time out of the United States. While on tour, the dancers teach classes, set up lighting, rehearse, perform, visit museums, attend dance and theater performances and experience different cultures. In addition to England, UCSB dancers performed, taught and learned in unique locations and situations including an outdoor festival at the top of a lake in Italy, an open-air theater in Athens, Greece and a far-flung university in Cyprus.

“You can learn about something in a lecture hall but until you actually do it you can’t know what it’s like,” Moseley explained. “They began as senior dance students and returned home from the tour as pre-professional dancers capable of holding their own and forging their own way in the larger world of dance.”

That firsthand approach is what appealed to Burright about UCSB’s dance program, and in calling her back home to work with the company in a different role.

“It was beautiful to see the growth in the program and the level of dancers coming out of it. At UCSB you get lots of personal time with teachers and mentors, they really take time to get to know you. I commend UCSB faculty for that,” Burright said. “Being at UCSB offered me space to understand who I am.”

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UCSB alumna’s research explores the concept of home through dance and current students. Here.