A movement in response to a stimulus. That’s the definition of “kinesis,” the word chosen three years ago to encapsulate the new work being made by Santa Barbara dance artists. Formerly known as New Works, Kinesis is Santa Barbara’s annual showcase of contemporary choreography. This year’s performance kicks off tomorrow, Friday, February 21, at Center Stage Theater.
At the same time, kinesis could be seen as a description of the way the show’s organizing body, the Santa Barbara Dance Alliance (SBDA), has adapted itself around a changing economy. Since 1979, SBDA has served as the community’s hub for all things dance, growing from a loose association of dancers and choreographers to a busy nonprofit with involvement in scores of projects and productions. Now, says Executive Director Sheila Caldwell, it’s time to focus on the basics: fiscal sponsorships, scholarships, and master classes. Most of the popular annual showcases SBDA has historically hosted are being put on hold for the time being; Kinesis is the exception.
“There’s a true need for independent choreographers to have a venue for staging new work,” Caldwell explained, noting that this year’s program represents the work of 11 choreographers and more than 50 performers.
Among those artists is Meredith Cabaniss, who graduated last spring from UCSB and has recently launched a dance collective. Last year’s production of Kinesis marked Cabaniss’s foray onto the professional stage.
“That was the first time I got to know other people who were performing,” she recalled. “I love the way Kinesis brings different artists together from many backgrounds — it makes it accessible to the general public who don’t necessarily see a lot of dance. I think it’s important for the entire community.”
This year, Cabaniss will present “a thirst for,” a trio that draws inspiration from the five languages of love and celebrates the possibility of compassion between strangers. The dancers in this work are drawn from UCSB’s freshman company; Cabaniss said she’s enjoying working with the group, whom she described as “relatively untrained, but all very talented.”
Like Cabaniss, independent choreographer and movement instructor Matthew Nelson sees Kinesis as a crucial aspect of the Alliance’s work in the community. “It’s so wonderful that [Kinesis] exists,” he noted. “This is a hard time for dance; there’s a lot of excitement about the art form, but a lot of that is about dance that’s commercialized.”
Nelson’s work for this program, “Apropos,” explores ideas of cultural appropriation, drawing on dance styles and musical traditions from around the world.
Alongside Cabaniss and Nelson’s work will be two dance films, two contemporary ballet numbers, a work of dance theater, and contemporary dance pieces that range from solos to large groups created by young choreographers and seasoned professionals, including members of the UCSB and SBCC dance faculties.
As Cabaniss noted, one of the best outcomes of Kinesis is the opportunity for artists working in the same small city to meet, talk, and consider future collaborations. Some of the creative relationships represented in this program arose from past productions of Kinesis, when artists had a chance to chat in the dressing room during tech and dress rehearsal.
If the benefits of such a program are clear, its future is somewhat less certain. Caldwell and her board are determined to make SBDA sustainable, but those whose creative lives center on dance suspect there may be challenges ahead.
As Nelson put it, “The art of live performance is something I value greatly, yet I’m cautious about how I invest in it. I don’t know how to build a safe future for it, but I do it anyway because I love it so much.” Nelson says he’s curious to see whether Kinesis will prove a sustainable model for performance art in the coming years.
“I am so grateful for the Dance Alliance,” he added. “I’m hopeful we can keep it up.”
Kinesis opens on Friday, February 21, at 8 p.m. and shows Saturday, February 22, at 2 and 8 p.m. at Center Stage Theater. For tickets, call (805) 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org. To learn more, visit sbdancealliance.org.