The distance between UCSB and downtown Santa Barbara is an inconsequential 10 miles, a 15-minute drive on a clear and construction-free day. But throw in a pair of vanguard choreographers, a motley crew of hungry dancers, and the vision of a forward-thinking artistic director, and the span widens with significance.

Last weekend, Santa Barbara Dance Theatre (SBDT) and their cool kid friends piled into their cars and headed south, leaving behind the traditional confines of their campus residency for a few days in the city. With guest choreographers Joshua Beamish and Emily Schoen in tow, and a roster of SBDT and community dancers, the company breezed into the Lobero Theatre and took command of a stage that is fast becoming Santa Barbara’s go-to art house for cutting edge contemporary movement.

SBDT Artistic Director Christopher Pilafian may know a thing or two about the benefits of diversification, having grown up and studied within the electric density of an urban landscape. His decision to premiere two newly commissioned pieces in the city’s Arts District signaled a desire to share his creative narrative with an expanded audience, and the community responded by showing up mid-week to witness the fruits of his resolution.

Schoen kicked off the evening with a touching opener entitled A Jointed Affair, setting the tone for a study in unreserved friendships. Four spirited dancers pranced and darted across the stage with informal confidence, lifting and scampering with a light and mounting playfulness. The clear execution of Schoen’s pedestrian movement allowed for an easy familiarity, with the dancers’ quiet nods and endearing half-smiles illuminating a human quality over her choreographic intention.

Against a barebones stage and dressed in nothing more than a pair of snug-fitting chinos, a scruffy-faced Beamish peacocked and vogued before the audience in his exquisite solo Concerto, capturing the restless angst of a gentleman-in-waiting. Choreographed to a Bach score, his pointed technique and wistful gesturing seamlessly fused classic and contemporary movement together in an eerily timeless manner that could have easily transferred from an 18th century royal court to a Chelsea nightclub. By stark contrast, his dark and weighted piece Salt tackled the grave subject of climate change, with seven emotionally charged dancers shape-shifting and recoiling against a dystopian milieu, desperation and rue hanging off their distorted limbs. The decision to cast Malcolm McCarthy, a community dancer with an acting pedigree, paid off to great effect, with McCarthy rising to the occasion as the soulful centerpiece tasked with drawing out the emotional complexity of an imbalanced environmental state.

To see Pilafian’s Strange Attractor on the Lobero stage was to dilate its conceptual artery; a capacious, molecular piece that bounced between relationships and energy and visual projections. With seasoned dancers Christina Sanchez and Tracy Kofford at the helm, the emotional and reactionary quality of each distinctive pas de deux lingered as the 11 sections unfolded with operatic intensity; the satisfying finale to a delicately balanced eco system of contemporary approaches and sensibilities.


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