In quiet unison, the dancers turn away from the audience, raising their arms in the air as their shoulders shudder in release. The last chords of Barbara’s “Dis, quand reviendras-tu?” float through the Lobero Theater, and with a delicate flourish, Santa Barbara Dance Theater closes out its 43rd season.
Artistic director Christopher Pilafian’s push toward a downtown presence for the UCSB campus-based company (SBDT has been in residence at the university since its 1976 inception) has no doubt been the key to ensuring his vibrant platform for incubation and exploration casts a wider net of dance patrons and culture vultures — and this year was no exception. Interlaced among the dance majors and university supporters was a distinctive L.A. presence, no doubt a result of Pilafian’s kaleidoscope roster of choreographers that included former Nederlands Dans Theater member Andrea Giselle Schermoly, New York City “b-girl” and Bessie Award winner Ephrat Asherie, and UCSB faculty artist and former Shen Wei Dance Arts member Brandon Whited, along with two of his own collaborative works. (I overheard a woman say she drove up from Topanga Canyon just to see Asherie “bring grit to Santa Barbara”).
In an arrestingly diverse program, Schermoly’s “Moonscapes” appealed to our feminist reverence (yes, women are fierce and bold and absurd and hilarious, in case you were still wondering); Pilafian and Nancy Colahan’s “Anemone” reached deep into our primordial urges (dancer Lauren Serrano was captivating in full, crimson dress glory); and Asherie’s “Swept In” perfectly captured the energy and spirit of a fervent UCSB Dance Company. But it was Whited’s brilliant use of pattern and space in “95 North” that brought palpable cohesion between form and utility, between professional and apprentice, setting the stage for a program that left the downtown set buzzing with delight.