Solstice Parade Adds to Own 'Legend'

Release Date: June 30,2016


Dancers show their moves in Saturday's Summer Solstice Celebration Parade.


Medusa walks up State Street, but no one turned to stone.

Acrobats perform inside a giant blimp sailing along State Street.

Servants of Cupid toss a giant ball during the Solstice parade.

Stilted figures stride along State Street.

A seeming circus ring master dances in the parade.


June 26, 2016

Hard as it is to believe, legend has it that the Summer Solstice parade started out as a humble, grassroots disruption of State Street status quo.

But now, 42 years later, it has, a bit subversively and good-naturedly, grown into one of the major phenomenons on Santa Barbara's calendar. It engages the imagination (sometimes wild and free-wheeling) and lures swarms of visitors to join in the summer-celebrating, sun-worshiping revelry and frenzy.

An estimated 100,000-plus throng of people packed State Street on Saturday as the big parade moved from Cota Street to Micheltorena Street, then over to Alameda Park on Santa Barbara Street.

Fueled by this year's theme "Legends," the parade included nods to the in-house legend of the parade itself.

One of the floats, an elaborate Trojan Horse project, came from Solstice artists Laura Smith and Claire Frandsen and included a multi-generational troupe of toga-donning dancers who worked their choreography to the tune of David Bowie's "Let's Dance," Prince's "Kiss," and more modern tracks.

Central to the philosophy and functioning of the Summer Solstice enterprise is the idea of inclusion. The parade opens its arms to amateurs along with skilled and experienced artists, dancers and float-makers. Another refreshing attribute is its timelessness and avoidance of reference to politics or commercial mass culture.

Speaking of inclusion, a unique aspect of this year's parade came early, in the form of a "Wings of Honor" float, a scale replica of the sculpture destined to be placed at the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport. The float was sponsored by the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation, the first time a veterans organization has participated in the Solstice parade.

Summer Solstice 2016 kicked off Friday night with performances in Alameda Park, paying tribute to musical legends who passed this year, David Bowie and Prince. In the parade, the term "legend" took on many meanings, usually taken lightly and with some element of dance attached.

Not for nothing has the Solstice parade been dubbed Mardi Gras West, for its spirit of abandon and bacchanalian revelry, ordained on the traffic-free State Street for a few hours each year.

Dance, often of the Brazilian and samba sort, has long been a traditional sound track of this parade, as heard this year in Mariano Silva's Egyptian-themed Solstice Carnaval float toward the start of the parade.

A giant Zeppelin, designed by Pali Ex Mano and as tall as most of the buildings it crept by moving up State Street, was adorned not by a soundtrack of Led Zeppelin, but a drumming ensemble led by Gregory Beeman.

The "Legends of the Sea" float and entourage of dancers, organized by the Casey family, revolved around a large pirate ship sporting the dance impetus of a disco-phonic disc jockey, rather than sea shanties.

American legends, of the mythic kind, were integral in the work of Ann Chevrefils and Robby Robbins, in the form of suitably humungous facsimiles of Paul Bunyan and the Babe the Blue Ox, loping in loony grandeur up the street.

As colors go, purple was decidedly in the air this year, in honor of the late, great Prince. Tributes to Prince included a moveable stage, awash in shades of purple, and Prince imitators and dancers moving to songs including "Breakfast Can Wait" and "Little Red Corvette," implicitly inviting the crowd to sing along.

From a different cultural place and time, the "La Boheme" float was an attention-seizer, with its bordello-circus chic motif, dancers in bustiers and acrobats gracefully contorting on a float, while popular local DJ Darla Bea kept up the musical heat.

As a rhythmically undulating finale to the parade, a group of drummers and dancers supplied an end piece. This was the cue for the audience and "public" to melt in line behind the slowly passing parade, taking this rare legally allowable moment in the year to go dancing in the streets.

The Solstice Celebration continues from noon to 6 p.m. today at Alameda Park.


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