Last September, the Santa Barbara dance community took a hit when 33-year-old James Buchanan, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance (SBDA), died suddenly of a heart attack. Buchanan was an experienced arts administrator who had taken the helm of the city’s umbrella organization for dance just one year prior, and his untimely death was a shocking loss, both personally and in terms of his enthusiastic leadership. In the wake of that loss, SBDA rallied to put on Studio 54, a benefit for the alliance that Buchanan had spearheaded and that was scheduled to take place just two weeks after his passing.
Traditionally, the next major event of the SBDA season is New Works, a concert of never-before-seen choreography by regional dance artists that has taken place at Center Stage Theater each January for more than a decade. But Buchanan had already begun to conceive of something slightly different: a showcase that would make contemporary dance more accessible by highlighting sophisticated, original work and providing a venue for younger dance artists to be acknowledged alongside more established choreographers. During the past few months, SBDA staffers and boardmembers have worked to plan this year’s showcase with an eye to Buchanan’s vision. The result is Kinesis, a concert of 10 contemporary works that shows February 25-26 at Center Stage.
The 10 pieces in this year’s program were chosen from among 17 works and represent a range of dance styles, from contemporary to ballet to contact improvisation. “James particularly wanted to open the adjudication process to adult choreographers who worked with younger dancers,” explained Sheila Caldwell, SBDA’s Director of Programs. “There are so many talented youth in Santa Barbara, and he didn’t want to exclude them.” Moving the concert from January to February has allowed Santa Barbara City College students to participate for the first time. (In past years, the show fell during their vacation.)
Among the works in this year’s program that include SBCC dancers is Misa Kelly’s “Flint.” Kelly is a longtime Santa Barbara choreographer and the artistic director of her own company, SonneBlauma Danscz Theatre. “I chose the title ‘Flint,’” she explained, “because this group of artists possesses a powerful spark.” Kelly cites photographs of the Painted People of the Surma and Mursi tribes of Southern Ethiopia as some of her inspirations for the work.
Among the choreographers showing work for the first time this year are Kaita Lepore and Amythyst Fritzler. Both have appeared at Center Stage as performers in prior years, but neither has had the chance to show her work on a Santa Barbara concert stage until now. Fritzler teaches Pilates in Santa Barbara and is a part-time professor of modern dance at Orange Coast College, where she has been developing her work for five dancers, titled “Chesty as a Peacock.” Though she began rehearsals intending to use identity theft as a concept for a dance, she soon abandoned that in favor of her dancers’ innate strengths as comediennes. The result, she said, is “fun, and not hard to figure out. There’s no hidden meaning; it’s a lighthearted theme.”
Lepore also talks about her duet in terms of transparency, though she’s working with more complex themes having to do with relationships and recognition. “For people who haven’t seen a lot of dance, you’ll get this one,” she said. “It’s a story.” Like Fritzler, Lepore will perform in her own work—always a challenge for a choreographer. “We’ve had to rely on video and get feedback from colleagues,” she noted, adding that her partner, Steven Jasso, has been an integral part of the creative process.
As the date of SBDA’s first big event of 2011 approaches, it’s hard not to think of Buchanan, and what he’d make of it all. “James passed before he could really share with us the changes he wanted to make for New Works, so we’re going with what feels right,” Caldwell explained. If the measure of success is improved accessibility for contemporary dance, Kinesis is shaping up to be a show that would make Buchanan proud.
Kinesis takes place at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) Friday and Saturday, February 25-26. For tickets, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.