Student dancers perform a variety of dance styles choreographed by students for “Random with A Purpose XX.” Photos by Morgan Grana.

You watch human bodies do the unimaginable. Figures float off the earth’s surface, glide down, and flip again and again over themselves, over others. This is dance as performed by “Random with a Purpose XX.”

To showcase UC Santa Cruz student talent, the yearly student-directed dance show “Random with a Purpose” opened Feb. 17 with a diverse array of pieces. The show’s 20th anniversary performance features everything from the crawling undead to sensual belly dancers, with the standard mishmash of modern dance and ballet mixed in between.

Directed by fourth-year Chelsea Moreno and assistant directors fourth-year Patrick Sheck and third-year Maggie Wander, “Random with a Purpose XX” is a beautifully composed production that keeps the annual event a fresh performance, far from a stale recital.

While not overwhelming the audience with the medley, “Random” incorporates an eclectic range of styles. Some pieces are so vibrant and passionate the sound of jaws dropping is virtually audible.

Yuliya Yankina’s contemporary ballet piece “À Pied” was anything but predictable. Charged with dark energy, the piece was thrillingly technical and surprisingly edgy. Featuring two dancers en pointe, Yankina’s piece melds the precision of fine technique with the creativity of modern schools.

Photo by Morgan Grana.

“À Pied” features an allegro style in lieu of the fairytale elegance of slow, controlled movement expected in classical ballet. The desperation and vigor apparent in the dancers’ faces and their sharp and forceful movements to the song “Time Is Running Out” provide a stunning performance. As they demonstrate, attitude is everything among dancers.

Working seamlessly with light management, the dancers’ costumes in “Caught Up in the Sea” play tricks on the eyes. Fear not, they aren’t naked — their bodies are blank canvases and their movements are brushstrokes. Choreographed by Chelsea Wells and Darla MacDonald, the piece is every bit as fluid as droplets of water bouncing off a stage. Effortlessly, flawlessly, each performer undulates through space in ways that leave us wondering how they just leapt, fell, bounced, pitched and rolled, only to repeat the same maneuvers without a hint of fatigue.

While these pieces emphasize the grace of their dancers, Juliet Ulibarri’s “Shadow Possession” abandons all preconceptions of female fragility. Menacingly crawling on stage, hair teased, clothes ripped, the performers are more reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” than dainty dancers. The remixed Radiohead song “Street Spirit” also creates a creepy feel, with dubstep beats lending a dramatic edge to the gravity-defying stunts.

Ulibarri fully grasps the awing effect of gymnastic moves, her dancers lifting each other in the air one moment, dropping backwards and flipping around in the next. Like the undead, the dancers’ faces appear lifeless, a theatrical juxtaposition to their lively movements. The makeup, the costumes, the music, the theatrics, even the facial expressions send up a playful middle finger to traditional dance forms.

Performing to the sounds of bemused applause, “Furrst Meating” employs the art of minimal movement. The music you keep waiting for never plays — performers produce their own sound. Tyler Wardwell’s unique piece adds intrigue to “Random.” Is there a technical difficulty? Why are they sliding across the stage on their backs? What is going on? One thing is certain: “Furrst Meating” is memorable. It’s modern, it’s unique and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Although the variety showcased may seem a bit random, the purpose is to celebrate the triumph of dance. In addition to the power of every gesture, the creativity in every piece, it is the passion of the performers that brings the art to life. After all, do we go to see a dance show? We want to be entertained, mystified and impressed. “Random with a Purpose XX” accomplishes all that and more.

“Random with a Purpose XX” will be showcased at Theater Arts Mainstage on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. through Feb. 26. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone or in person at the UCSC Ticket Office (831-459-2159) and at the Santa Cruz Civic Box Office (831-420-5260). Admission is free for undergraduate UCSC students with valid ID first purchase, $11 general admission, $10 seniors 62+, $10 students with ID.