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When Christopher Pilafian was anointed as artistic director of Santa Barbara Dance Theater in 2013, it would have been logical to assume that a retrospective of his vast catalog of work would soon follow. After all, here was an artist who’d spent nearly four decades sharing space with some of New York City’s most reputable choreographers and dance companies, traveling the globe to perform and present the efforts of his years spent at Juilliard. He had now been given an academic platform and an engaged audience from which a reflective survey could easily transition into blissful retirement.
But Pilafian wasn’t going out like that.
“I’m treating the company as a collaborative lab,” he would say when describing his vision for the now 44-year-old institution. And over the past seven years, he’s made good on that promise, inviting dozens of international and national artists to come into the studio and inject dynamic and diverse perspectives into his intimate company. When Pilafian’s dance concerts began to attract the L.A. set, he saw an opportunity to expose the university’s bourgeoning dance majors to new audiences and created a highly coveted apprentice program in response.
From January 16 through 19, dance enthusiasts will be treated to Pilafian’s latest cooperative efforts: a four-works program that includes a re-staging “Miserere Nobis” from famed N.Y.C. choreographer Jennifer Muller; a premiere of the retro stylized “1221 Primrose Ln.” by Stephanie Miracle; Pilafian’s own “Chrometrics,” which includes his professional and apprentice dancers; and an appearance by the UCSB Dance Company in Nancy Colahan’s “A Trio of Glass Etudes.”
To see Pilafian authentically motivated by the prospect of elevating the works of others is to understand his dedication to the examination of energy, a theme that has appeared in his choreography time and again over the years. “Stimulation begets stimulation,” he said to me over drinks one night. “Exploring my role as curator means I get to exercise the more playful, risk-taking side of myself that has been wanting to come out for a while now.” Don’t miss the chance to see how that investigation plays out on UCSB’s Hatlen stage. See sbdancetheater.org.