Burning Man fixture Dancetronauts takes audiences on wild dance odyssey
Last year at Burning Man, there was a moment when Philip Plastina and his team of Dancetronauts found themselves surrounded by a crowd of tens of thousands of people. “To look out and see that—all of the lights, and all of the faces, and our sound system that we built by hand pumping so hard, and looking at my whole entire crew—it was the most exhilarating feeling ever,” says Plastina.
It was a satisfying payoff to a project that had taken a summer to complete, but it also served as motivation to move forward for Plastina and Dancetronauts, a Santa Cruz-based performance art group that combines professional dancers, fire performers, and artists with renowned DJs, cutting-edge stage lighting and visual effects.
Locals will have an opportunity to catch Dancetronauts live in action this weekend when they perform at UnScruz, Santa Cruz’s regional Burning Man Decompression Event, which promises to bring the spirit of Burning Man to town with eight hours of fire, dance, music, art, performances, theme camps, DJs and more.
Dancetronauts was originally conceived in 2005, inspired by Plastina’s experiences at Burning Man. “I wanted a break from work and my break was going to be to express myself artistically, and I saw a fun way of doing it with the Burning Man outlet,” he says. “Seeing what other great minds had done at Burning Man—branching out artistically in ways that I’d never seen before—I just wanted to be part of the artistic circle and contribute something that other people were going there to see, and that inspired me to make something big, bold and new.”
But it wasn’t until 2009 that Dancetronauts truly took off. It was during that time that Plastina and his friend Travis Richards started DJing parties and events dressed in space suits, and the size of both the group and its fanbase grew substantially. Plastina (aka Captain Philthy Phil) credits Richards (aka Captain TravNasty) with the latter in particular, saying “He’s worked magic when it comes down to having that following.”
In 2010 Plastina decided to go all in, selling his construction company and investing in a new project, a truck that would later be transformed into a “mutant vehicle” known as the Strip Ship. Designed and engineered by Plastina, the vessel was built by hand from the ground up with the help of his fellow Dancetronauts, and is now the centerpiece of the group’s act.
The group lives its mantra of “Live, Love, Laugh and Dance” by encouraging the audience to be a part of the show. “We’re a different kind of group,” says Plastina. “We’ve worked our way to this position, but we’re not performers—we’re just everyday, average people that are going out there.” He continues, saying, “We just have the passion to do it, and because of that we reflect positively on the crowd.”
Finding the 30-odd members that make up the group today didn’t happen overnight. “It’s taken us years to put our members together,” says James Plastina—Philip’s brother—who plays an integral role in the Dancetronaut operation. “Through trials and tribulations and ups and downs and yelling and fighting and finally, after years, we have been able to put together an amazing group of people. And now what we’ve ended up with is just guys and girls that love to work together. You just don’t go out and get that in one day or even a month. Our group is so incredible because it’s handmade.”
Currently, the Plastinas are excited to debut a huge, recently finished speaker project that took seven months, which will be unveiled at UnScruz. “Even though we can’t play them loud, we’re going to give people a chance to hear some of the most clean and amazing sounds that they’ve ever heard,” says Philip. “So if there are any audiophiles in the city—I know there are many—they need to come check it out. Nobody’s taken on a project this large.”
It’s an impressive accomplishment for a group that didn’t necessarily expect to enjoy this level of success. “It’s surprising,” admits James. “We never thought we’d be doing what we’re doing at this point in our lives.” Philip agrees. “I built houses,” he says with a laugh. “I didn’t expect to be dancing in a space suit up on a stage.”
Dancetronauts will perform at UnScruz, which takes place from 4 p.m.-midnight, Sunday, Sept. 30 at Santa Cruz Portuguese Hall,
216 Evergreen St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10/adv, $15/door with playawear or costume, $20/door with street clothes. For more information, visit unscruz.eventbrite.com.