In the months leading up to a dance company’s anniversary season, the word legacy inevitably begins to swirl around a collective consciousness, surfacing in conversation as members pause in retrospection. In the case of Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, a 40-year historical implication includes the allegiance of an entire university, the dedication of three distinctive artistic directors, the contributions of 40-guest choreographers, and the fortitude of nearly 100 dancers.
It would be easy to forgive Santa Barbara’s longest-running dance company to mark the occasion with a review of its expansive catalog of work; each director has characterized their tenure with a distinctive approach that would make for a diverse program in and of itself. Instead, SBDT opted to debut its 2016 season with a presentation of three fresh works by its past and present directors, signaling to the community that there would be no respite on the proverbial laurels anytime soon.
Jerry Pearson (artistic director 1990-2010) kicked off the evening with a satirical look at the business of entertainment in his jubilant ensemble piece Amuse Bouche. Harking back to the early talking picture days, pinwheels of legs and pleated skirts kicked up with buoyancy as six dancers cartwheeled and pranced in expert formation against a backdrop of projected images and quirky declarations. The ingredients for a successful dance piece flashed on screen, with the dancers themselves donning aprons and chef’s hats in anticipation of the elbow grease needed to bring a choreographic recipe to life.
In Fragrance of Memories, Alice Condodina (artistic director 1976-1990) creates a romantic dreamscape of billowing white fabric surrounding a contemplative protagonist, a striking Christina Sanchez in flowing violet chiffon designed by costumer Janet O’Neill. Lost in reflection over her past loves, depicted here by the immaculate supporting roles of Thomas Fant, Tracy Kofford, and Daniel Burgueno, she is lifted through a delicate forest of memories and emotions, a heady mixture of sensuality and provocation no doubt sending the temperature of the theater up a few degrees.
The inclusion of Edgar Zendejas’s piece Impenetrable Winter, originally choreographed for the 2015 collaborative project Common Ground, was a welcomed encore, offering audiences the opportunity to witness the piece in an independent context. With the assistance of lighting designer Michael Klaers, the dancers’ vogue-like arms were illuminated in pools of warm light, highlighting the detailed limbs that lingered past the stage wings as dancers entered, paused, and exited with thoughtful contemplation.
The evening concluded with Christopher Pilafian’s (artistic director 2011-present) Strange Attractor, an alchemical tour de force inspired by the molecular structure of human relationships. With an original score by composer Ryan Beveridge that shape-shifted from mambo to jazz to tribal, the complex patterns in each of the piece’s sections were punctuated by the seven dancers’ palpable personalities, reflecting an intimate trust most noted in Tracy Kofford and Christina Sanchez, and Thomas Fant and Nikki Pfeiffer’s smoldering duets.
The curation of the program itself dismissed the conventional chronology of artistic directors for a conceptual order that guided the audience thru a sensorial journey of multifaceted themes, underscoring Pilafian’s continued dedication to provoke the boundaries and perceptions of a 40-year old company’s ever-evolving legacy.