As far as dream dance jobs go, Christopher Pilafian’s role as artistic director of Santa Barbara Dance Theater (SBDT) ranks among the clouds. With wide-ranging assistance through the company’s residency at UCSB that includes such perks as dedicated rehearsal space and developmental resources — not to mention financial assistance with its seasonal operating budget — the conventional woes that plague an evolving dance company are considerably eased. Add to that a steady stream of talent plucked fresh from the university’s dance department, and Pilafian might be forgiven for shuttering his talents behind the status of a mighty institution, the madcap choreographer churning out brilliant works within the charmed towers of academia.
Except that’s not his style.
On any given evening, you’re likely to run into Pilafian commingling with regulars of the downtown arts district scene, catching the latest works of a touring dance company, or supporting the efforts of an area choreographer. On the occasion that he can’t attend a performance, Pilafian has been known to send personal notes of regret and support, underscoring an equal regard for both the art and the artist, and reinforcing his role as an esteemed community mentor.
Pilafian’s resolute efforts to extend his creative reach beyond campus life are also projected through the company itself: SBDT’s dancers hail from distinctive arteries of the city’s dance community, from well-traveled professionals to Santa Barbara natives who grew up among the ranks of area studios. When you run into them at an area bar or morning yoga class (as I’ve done on more than one occasion), their enthusiasm over new work or a guest choreographer is unmistakable — the kind of fervor that signals a refreshing devotion to their craft and to their roles as SBDT company members.
Last season, Pilafian’s decision to galvanize the company’s presence within the greater Santa Barbara community was manifested through an evening of curated dance at the Lobero Theatre, where the commissioned works of Joshua Beamish and Emily Schoen rubbed shoulders with Pilafian’s distinctive repertoire. This season builds on the success of a carefully balanced program with two new guest choreographers, a historic reprisal, and two works by Pilafian in a program titled NOW/EVER/MORE — described by Pilafian as “a discrete time and space in which we reflect on the challenges and beauties of this grand collaborative project: being human.”
Guest choreographer Andrea Giselle Schermoly (who’s worked with the likes of Nederlands Dans Theater and Ohad Naharin) will open the evening’s program with an expressionism piece titled “Hers,” highlighting the varying facets of humanity and individuality and set to a score by Belgian composer Wim Mertens. Continuing the theme of self-exploration is guest artist David Maurice (Ate9 Dance Company and Luna Negra Dance Theatre) who draws upon cultural and social norms as forces that impose limits on the sense of self in “Were It Not for Shadows.”
If you missed Nancy Colahan’s restaging of Jane Dudley’s “Cante Flamenco” — danced by a rapturous Christina Sanchez during the company’s fall program — you’ll have one more opportunity to witness this historic choreographic response to the Spanish Civil War. Also on reprise will be Pilafian’s engaging and mounting “Mystique,” a touching homage to the women who have influenced his life and work; rounding out the program will be Pilafian’s debut of “Chamber Fantasy,” a spirited piece doused with irony and wit and set to the music of George Frideric Handel.
How the five pieces might breathe harmoniously on a shared stage is something Pilafian takes great care in defining: “This program speaks to the timeless role of art,” he said. “Choreographers draw upon the raw materials of inspiration, observation, empathy, resonance, and passion to reveal what was invisible.”
4·1·1 Santa Barbara Dance Theater presents NOW/EVER/MORE Thursday-Friday, May 4-5, 8 p.m., at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.). Call 963-0761 or see lobero.com.