‘Distance and Desire’

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Marking its 43rd year as UC Santa Barbara’s resident professional dance company, Santa Barbara Dance Theater (SBDT) continues to push the boundaries of movement and imagination.

In “Distance and Desire,” the company presents a program of new works by guest choreographers Josh Manculich and Yusha-Marie Sorzano and by Christopher Pilafian, the company’s artistic director. Also on the program is a guest performance by Doug Elkins’ New York City-based company, doug elkins choreography, etc., made possible by support from the Jody and John Arnhold Guest Artist Fund.

The curtain rises at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, in the campus’s Hatlen Theater. Additional performances will begin at 8 p.m. Jan. 12, 18 and 19, and at 2 p.m. Jan. 20.

“Santa Barbara Dance Theater is a professional company in that the skill set of the core dancers is at a professional level and they are paid,” said Pilafian, a professor in the Department of Theater and Dance. “They serve as an example of what our undergraduate students can do in this field. They demonstrate what is possible to create and present, and how much we can contribute as artists who love the art form and want it to thrive.”

Pilafian likens the dance company to a laboratory that enables undergraduate to see how their area of study can be expressed and take shape in the world. Over the years, the company has hired UC Santa Barbara alumni, including [NAME], who joined SBDT [WHEN?]. “She graduated from UC Santa Barbara and went on to Hunter College in New York to earn his master’s degree in dance education,” explained Pilafian. “She moved back to Santa Barbara, and I invited her to join u. She has so clearly been developing her potential, and that’s so much of what this is all about.”

Originally founded as Repertory-West Dance Company in 1978 by UC Santa Barbara dance professor emerita Alice Condodina, SBDT provides a forum for faculty choreographers and dancers, as well as guest artists. The name changed in 1991 when Jerry Pearson, Pilafian’s predecessor became artistic director.

“I am committed to Santa Barbara Dance Theater continuing as a repertory company,” said Pilafian. “I’m a choreographer and I love doing that, but it’s not about my work alone. And part of the joy of doing the job is the curation — reaching out and identifying artists who would be a good fit for us and introducing our students to choreographers who often have been stellar performers, and, in some cases, still are.”

The company is small, consisting of four core dancers. But two years ago Pilafian initiated an apprenticeship that has become part of the dance department’s curriculum. “We have 10 undergraduate apprentices — five men and six women — who have been working with the company and will perform this weekend and next,” he said.

Other programs Pilafian has established serve the mission of the company, the Department of Theater and Dance and UC Santa Barbara as a whole by bringing in guest choreographers who are thriving in their fields and in their careers, such as Manculich and Sorzano. “They’re mostly emerging choreographers, though some are already well known,” he said. “We are giving them an opportunity to boost their careers, but in so doing they’re also boosting the cultural richness of our environment.”

‘Distance and Desire’

With music spanning the 17th century through the 21st, Santa Barbara Dance Theater’s upcoming program features premieres of Sorzano’s “To All Our Ends”; Manculich’s “The Grey Area,” as well as a company premier of his award-winning “Monologue”; and Pilafian’s “Chanson.”

“Division, separation and isolation lead inexorably to a desire for connection, Pilafian said, “and this theme drives the program.” In his new work, “The Grey Area,” for example, Manculich suggests a middle ground between poles where we can listen and learn to coexist. His solo “Monologue” considers a desire for communication within isolation, depicting a soloist communicating to the audience, not through speech, but through a series of gestures and movement sequences.

In “All Our Ends,” Sorzano, a native of Trinidad, reflects on the temporary but traumatic separation from her work as she recovered from an injury. The all-female contemporary work explores how women balance nature and instinct within expectations of self and community. As a woman, a Caribbean immigrant and a classically trained dancer, Sorzano sought answers to this personal question after a major injury threatened her identity as a performing artist. The result is an expression of the internal battle waged to maintain control over one’s identity, but also a recognition that being a complete human is about finding harmony among our many selves and distinct voices.

Elkins’ “O, round desire” explores the connections that bind people, both emotionally and physically. Figures in continual orbit around one another are both drawn together and pulled apart in ethereal and intricately grounded configurations. Through experiences of solitude, passion, camaraderie, loss and longing, the piece asks, what unbreakable bonds remain?

Pilafian’s “Chanson,” which features a cast of 14 dancers, including 10 SBDT apprentices, shifts tones as it moves through a cycle of states and textures informed by the song “Dis, quand reciendras-tu,” originally written and performed by the French singer Barbara. Since the song’s debut in 1962, numerous musicians have offered their interpretations, which taken together demonstrate the broad range of artistic possibility.

Questions about “Distance and Desire” may be directed to Una Mladenovic at [email protected]. Additional information, including ticket purchase, may be found at www.sbdancetheater.org and at www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu.