Configuration, Santa Barbara Dance Arts’ (SBDA) annual showcase, began as a small, intimate performance in which students shared their creative progress with family and friends. Now, after two decades of development, Configuration is a fully produced evening of selected works that reflect the talent and passion of SBDA’s student dancers and choreographers, ages 11–18. This month’s 20th-anniversary performance at Center Stage Theater features the artistic voices of the young generation, whose recent experiences have been inundated with area and national tragedy, expressed through a variety of styles and media. “I think that art is a fantastic vehicle for healing, expression, and activism,” said SBDA owner and Configuration director Alana Tillim. “Each season, we meet as a faculty to discuss poignant and relevant ideas and pitch ideas for concepts. We always keep in mind that we are working with kids, but as we can see from the aftermath of Parkland, young people have incredible voices and a desire to be heard.”
The showcase is an SBDA tradition that students audition for after training with the company, sometimes for several years. This year’s dance pieces cover a breadth of topics pertinent to the performers, including gender identity and mental health. Works such as “The Weight of the World,” featuring Student Choreography Award winner Parker Pallad, and “This Bitter Earth,” choreographed by Teen Dance Star winner Frankie Harman, explore mechanisms for coping with catastrophe. Tillim calls “This Bitter Earth,” which expresses the vulnerability of being a bystander surrounded by disaster, an eerie precursor to the Montecito mudslides. Beyond offerings of jazz, hip-hop, and contemporary dance, Configuration also includes the premiere of a student-led video project overseen by instructor (and SBDA alumni) Brittany Sandoval. “The film talks about our youth wanting to feel safe at school, wanting a female president, and wanting equal pay, and [it] features a diverse cross-section of families,” said Tillim. “We have firefighters, police officers, adopted families, gay families — all showing that love has many forms.”
SBDA’s dance program offers students the opportunity to learn through classes and performance, and it emphasizes the value of exploring the craft through choreography and teaching. Pallad, for example, not only choreographed work for the show but also developed that work with a group of younger students in order to bring the piece to life onstage. “This was such an inspirational experience, and I learned so much more about myself, my dancing, and my artistry as a choreographer,” said Pallad. “I love these girls with all my heart, and leading them through a piece close to my heart is everything a girl could ask for …. I can’t wait to see where they will go.” On March 10, SBDA will honor these student choreographers and award a $250 prize courtesy of American Riviera Bank to one of these outstanding young artists.
Mentorships between dancers at different points in their artistic journeys give students the occasion to learn from their peers. It also brings the company members closer together on a personal level, as audiences will witness the heartfelt send-offs to the company’s senior soloists, who have grown up in the SBDA family. These young women give testament to the importance and benefits of an education in the arts. “The current culture for young women is very exciting,” said Tillim of her students’ work. “They are so lucky to be growing up in a time of great change and empowerment …. This show will give you great hope and inspiration that we have some incredibly bright and powerful female leaders coming right out of Santa Barbara.”
Configuration runs March 10-11 and 16-17 at Center Stage Theater (751 Paseo Nuevo). The show is a collaboration with the Arts Mentorship Program, an organization that offers training, education, mentorship, and financial assistance to young community members seeking an education in the arts. Call (805) 963-0408 or see centerstagetheater.org.