Like many artists working in Santa Barbara, Cybil Gilbertson hasn’t always been sure this was the place for her. Yet, 14 years after her graduation from UCSB, the dancer, choreographer, instructor, and body worker feels she’s finally settling in. That may have something to do with the fact that she and her partner, Paul Wehrman, are expecting their first son in September, but it’s also a sign that Gilbertson has found another way to nurture growth within the Santa Barbara arts community.
Her baby, creatively speaking, is NECTAR, a showcase for new, boundary-pushing dance, theater, music, film, visual art, and spoken-word performance. Though her background is primarily in dance—Gilbertson earned her BA in dance before performing for 12 years with Santa Barbara Dance Theatre—she’s interested in the power of all art forms to transform communities, draw people together, and even heal suffering.
The seed of NECTAR had been germinating since 2007, when Gilbertson’s aunt Barbara committed suicide. As a way of coping with the loss, Gilbertson created a solo work of dance theater, incorporating text and movement in a tribute to her aunt’s life, and to her death. When she first performed the work, the intensity of audience responses took her by surprise. “People were coming up to me, crying and telling me stories about the people they’d lost,” she said. “I realized there was a true need in our community for art that addressed complicated, deep, or painful topics.”
The first NECTAR showcase, organized around the themes of love and war, took place in September 2009. Since then, there have been six others, focused on topics including suicide and violence prevention, sex and the body, and grief. Each evening highlights the work of one or two nonprofit groups working in a relevant sector. The most recent installment centered on animals and our relationship to them, and benefited DAWG (Dog Adoption and Welfare Group) and All for Animals. In the near future, Gilbertson is planning to organize evenings around the themes of home and homelessness, and youth.
When she’s not drawing together artists from across the disciplines to create socially transformative art events, Gilbertson teaches various forms of Pilates, dance, and yoga, practices massage, and creates and performs original dance works. “You have to push pretty hard to innovate, but that means there’s also lots of room for inspiration,” she now says of Santa Barbara. “I feel blessed to have so many opportunities here. It feels like a great place to start a family.” For more on Gilbertson, visit cybilgilbertson.com or find NECTAR on Facebook.