It began as most Friday clubs do: a warm greeting from the Lobero staff, name tags passed around to guests, and a festive shuffle to the front of the theatre, where the chatter of excitement serves as background music to a group of dancers quietly warming-up on stage.

And then- somewhere between Dianne Vapnek wistfully recounting Doug Varone’s first Santa Barbara residency back in 1997, and how the evolution of his illustrious career has run parallel to the mounting success of DANCEworks- a casual announcement: this would be the final chapter in the 11-volume series of a community program that has seismically shifted the way dance is produced and presented in Santa Barbara.

“Nowhere-not anywhere in this country-does anyone offer the kind of opportunity that Dianne has with this program,” emphasized Varone, and the audience cheered in agreement.

As Varone and his adept dancers launched into the initial workings of Somewhere- with Varone expertly dicing his intention and method into easily digestible and satisfying sections- a renewed fervor took over the Friday Club crew. Questions and feedback were served up with heart-warming anecdotes, and the sparkling rapport between audience and artist that follows Varone wherever he goes spilled easily into the Lobero courtyard, where guests lingered over wine and conversation long after the last call bell rang out.

By Sunday, when the annual DANCEworks Artist Reception brought dancers and donors together for an afternoon of casual residency chatter, the mood was thick with nostalgia. Community members shared intimate stories of the choreographers and works that shifted the way they approached contemporary dance. Varone and his artists weaved around the crowd, offering up exciting tidbits of the work that would be covered during their much-anticipated masterclass on Saturday. Prepping for the remaining weeks ahead, patrons huddled together and made plans to see one another at the three final community events leading up to Somewhere’s debut.

“I’ll be at everything between now and September,” one guest promised. “I need to savor it all before it disappears forever.”

The Vapneks smiled in the corner of their sunny garden, suspended for a moment in the glow of what they’ve worked so hard to build over the decades as they bid their guests farewell.

I pictured Dianne pulling out a harmonica from her pocket as Elliot Gould does in the final scene of The Long Goodbye, playing a tune and dancing a jig into the sunset.

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