“We all have periods in our lives that feel a lot like winter,” said Christopher Pilafian, who is in the throes of an intimate rehearsal, watching as dancer Miche Wong smooths over the details of an intricate solo, the tone in his voice carrying the weight of a full year’s worth of exertion. “There are times that our life force feels at a lower end,” he continued, “but nature has this remarkable way of restoring vitality.”
A few days into 2018, Pilafian, the artistic director of Santa Barbara Dance Theater (SBDT), is shedding the burden of an exhaustive year of political and personal upheaval and looking ahead to what’s next: a fresh performance season filled with the kind of thoughtful and deliberate collaborations that have come to define his leadership with UCSB’s in-residence professional dance company. “The interconnectedness of the arts within a broader community is at the forefront of my approach,” he explained, and one need only look to the long list of area musicians, fine artists, and designers he’s tapped to work with his stellar roster of dancers to know he’s holding firm to intention.
“We have some real guest power this season,” he said, referring to the four choreographers he’s commissioned to present alongside his own pieces — all female and formidable forces that have carved out a reputation for churning out unapologetic grit and grace within the world of contemporary dance. Former Nederlands Dans Theater company member Andrea Giselle Schermoly will return with the premiere of “Moonscape,” born out of her search for answers over the new culture we’ve come to inherit (“What sort of world are we living in now?” she asks) and set to a raucous and opposing soundtrack that marries Beethoven with the Doors; UCSB senior lecturer and choreographer Nancy Colahan will present a new incarnation of her fall works “Déjà Vu for Strings and Percussion,” which debuted at the New Vic to rousing success and introduced Santa Barbara’s downtown set to the emerging prowess of the university’s student dance company; and guest dancer Miche Wong will make her SBDT choreographic debut with “Apsara,” a multimedia collaboration with visual artist Mary Heebner highlighting the vibrant story of creation in Hindu mythology.
Escaping the frigid confines of a New York winter will be choreographer Jacqulyn Buglisi, who, along with members of her dance company, will present an excerpt of “Requiem,” an emotionally charged work about the sorrow and aching dignity that overshadows human loss. As part of her residency, Buglisi will be setting a piece for UCSB’s student dance company that explores the expansive, physical theater format her company has been lauded for since its epic 2011 debut of “Table of Silence” on the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Pilafian’s own as-yet-untitled works center on a similar thread of human emergence and resurgence, pulling from personal and meditative themes to explore the finite moment where will sparks imagination, igniting inspiration for a brand-new day. “Energy and vibrancy seek to emerge even out of the darkest of periods,” he said. Handpicking a group of dancers that include seasoned company members and newly anointed students of his apprentice program, Pilafian seeks to reflect the ebbs and flows of human frailty and strength through a satiating language of physical exploration. “Life itself seeks to be fully expressed,” he remarked, and one gets the undeniable sense that he was born to curate the journey.
S.B. Dance Theater will present its program Wednesday-Saturday, January 17-20, 8 p.m., and Sunday, January 21, 2 p.m. Call (805) 893-2064 or visit tinyurl.com/SBDanceTheater2018.