Much has changed since the foundation of the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance (SBDA) in 1982. What was then a pretty beachside community with tourist appeal has grown into a cultural hotspot, and dance is at the center of this creative renaissance. We’ve become a regular touring destination for some of the world’s top dance companies; up-and-coming New York choreographers clamor to hold residencies here, and Central Coast audiences have grown increasingly savvy about the art form. It’s no surprise that all this excitement has changed the face of dance here at home.
This weekend, SBDA presents Kinesis, its annual celebration of contemporary dance conceived and created right here in Santa Barbara. This year’s program features dancers who’ve had illustrious careers in New York, choreographers who collaborate across international borders, abstract works and works that tackle topics ranging from divorce to spiritual guidance, and even a brief stage appearance by a dog.
As Santa Barbara’s dance scene has grown up, so has SBDA’s approach to the annual production. Begun in 1979 as the Choreographers’ Collaborative, it was renamed New Works in 2000 to encourage the generation toward just that. In 2011, shortly after the untimely passing of then-executive director James Buchanan, the program was renamed Kinesis, a title that honored Buchanan’s vision of an adjudicated show dedicated to new choreography, with an emphasis on collaboration, innovation, and a high level of artistry. A panel of judges selected nine works for this year’s program; there are a total of 40 dancers in the production, all of whom call this region home.
“It’s like a homecoming for seasoned choreographers,” noted Sheila Caldwell, SBDA’s current executive director. “I have intense admiration for what they do.”
Among this year’s chosen choreographers is Christopher Pilafian, director of dance at UCSB and artistic director of Santa Barbara Dance Theater (SBDT), the professional modern-dance troupe that opened its new season just two weeks ago. Pilafian will show two excerpts from that evening-length show: “Solo and Trio,” both of which were created in recent months in close collaboration with his dancers.
Also on the program is “Grace,” a quartet by Santa Barbara City College dance educator Tracy Kofford, who also dances for SBDT. Kofford, who spent the early part of his career in New York City, said he’s particularly impressed by SBDA’s commitment to area artists. “In N.Y.C., an event like this would cost a presenter thousands of dollars,” he observed. “SBDA is giving us a beautiful gift by allowing us to present work without any out-of-pocket expense.”
No matter how good the support, conceiving, creating, and rehearsing an original work of dance is a demanding endeavor. For Melissa Block, who will perform her solo “Power/less,” the creative process was also a process of personal and spiritual growth. “Divorce is often seen as a terrible disaster, a tragedy of enormous proportions,” she reflected, “but I believe it can be healthy and enriching for everyone involved.” In creating this work, Block worked closely with Misa Kelly, who will also present “One World Is Not Enough,” a physical theater work cocreated with her partner, Stephen, and featuring movement material contributed by artists of all ages, readings from WWII correspondence, and a special appearance by Dolbie the dachshund.
The Kellys are a good example of the ways the Santa Barbara dance scene has expanded in recent years, particularly in the direction of works that draw on the input of many artists and defy traditional genres. For Caldwell, that kind of boundless creativity is exactly what Kinesis aims to foster, and to showcase. “Santa Barbara is experiencing a real explosion in dance right now,” she noted. “People are excited about working on collaborations, and Kinesis is a huge part of that.”
Other choreographers selected for Kinesis 2013 are Meredith Cabaniss, Melanie Johnson, Yvette Johnson, and Lyn Wiltshire, whose works range from ballet to jazz to modern.
The Santa Barbara Dance Alliance presents Kinesis 2013 at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo) on Friday, February 1, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, February 2, at 2 and 8 p.m. For tickets, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org. To learn more about SBDA, visit sbdancealliance.org.