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Review: Santa Barbara Dance Theater Takes ‘Leap of Faith’

Santa Barbara Dance Theater, the professional company in residence at UCSB, emerged in a new incarnation last year under the direction of Christopher Pilafian, with dancers Kyle Castillo, Monica Ford, Tracy Ray Kofford and Christina Sanchez.

Pilafian has been working collaboratively with the dancers for most of the past year on an evening-long piece, Leap of Faith, the debut of their inaugural season. This luxuriously, and unusually, long gestation period has birthed a work of great depth and quality.

There is a satisfying array of solos, duets, trios and quartets — vignettes of solitude, intimacy and community. Each dancer has a chance to showcase his or her strengths and individuality, while together they are a powerful ensemble. The movement is varied and inventive, in turns playful, haunting, sensual, combative, languid and joyful.

The overall tone of the evening is serious, but there are moments of lightness and humor that are all the more powerful for their sparing use.

Before the intermission, the dancers pose in a tableau while the curtain drops, and delightfully, 15 minutes later, the curtain rises on them in the same position, as if the pause button had been hit.

A highlight is a duet for the male dancers in the second half. Especially compelling for its rarity, here it is tender without being overtly romantic, a portrayal of humanity in all its nurturing and affectionate glory.

Original music by William Pasley provides texture and an ever-shifting ambiance throughout the work, from swelling strings to gamelan-type gongs to the old-world sound of harpsichord, beautifully fitting each segment. Lighting design by Michael Klaers effectively accents the simple but impressive backdrop of gathered, draping fabric behind a scrim, occasionally offering bursts of bright color.

Leap of Faith runs through Sunday at UCSB’s Hatlen Theater. Be sure to seize this opportunity for a refreshing leap into the new year, and witness the opening of a new chapter for this exceptional company.

— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.

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