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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts


New Era Dawns for Santa Barbara Dance Theater

By Maureen McFadden for Santa Barbara Dance Theater |

Finding the physics among the four dancers has been the guiding focus of Santa Barbara Dance Theater’s new artistic director, Christopher Pilafian, since he took over the much-admired company last year. Now the public will have a chance to see what’s been developing on the UC Santa Barbara campus where the contemporary dance company is in residence at the highly praised Department of Theater and Dance.

Christopher Pilafian
Christopher Pilafian

“A Leap of Faith” will have its premiere Jan. 16-20 in the Hatlen Theater — only five performances, at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

Featuring Kyle Castillo, Monica Ford, Tracy Kofford and Christina Sanchez, the four dancers have been likened to a string quartet, but in their own métier, because their movements blend together so seamlessly.

Moments of wonder and possibility will be seen in beautifully poignant solos, amazing duets, breathtaking trios and energetic quartets, where the dancers explore the relationships of space, time and how humans connect.

Pilafian has the company playfully interacting one moment and other times demonstrably pointed and challenging. Music tempos and moods vary throughout using original and classical pieces.

“It’s very rare for dancers to become as fluid together as these four have in so short a time,” Pilafian said. “Their fluidity is a product of time spent working closely in the studio month after month, getting to know each other’s rhythms, temperaments and movement signatures. I have been blessed with strong dancers who have been able to respond to my ideas and bring their own kinetic signatures into the process.”

Pilafian likes to “tune into the stories the dancers carry in their bodies, and then expand upon them. What you will see in ‘A Leap of Faith’ is the conversation — a dance script — that we developed while working together this past year.

“SBDT provides an invaluable opportunity for dance majors to experience working in a professional contemporary dance company after graduation, he said. “I’m grateful to the university for maintaining belief in and support of the company.”

In fact some of the strongest company members through the years have been alumni who, like Kofford or Teresa Chapman, have danced professionally elsewhere (San Francisco or New York City) and then returned to SBDT as seasoned professionals. This resident dance company is establishing a great legacy.

Three of the four company members — Ford, Castillo and Kofford — graduated from UCSB.  Both Ford and Kofford were in the company when it was directed by Jerry Pearson. The fourth member, Sanchez, moved to Santa Barbara to start a family with her husband, Eric (they have two girls, ages 4 and 8). She danced for many years with the internationally known and acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as well as Complexions Contemporary Ballet. The latter company’s dancers are widely recognized as being very strong technically and in performance, with gorgeous lines — Sanchez’s long lines are especially featured in her solo and are astoundingly beautiful.

After Kofford’s years with SBDT, he moved to New York to work with Jennifer Muller/The Works (where Pilafian was a company member before he arrived at UCSB in 1990). Kofford returned to the South Coast recently and has been named director of dance at Santa Barbara City College. Together, Sanchez and Kofford bring mature artistry while Ford and Castillo, in their 20s, bring a unique, fresh intensity to the stage.

Castillo graduated as a global studies and Spanish major, although he trained as a dancer; he was not in the dance program — but you wouldn’t know it. Ford, who began dancing at 3 years old, was with SBDT from 2009-11. She received awards in dance and choreography throughout her college years, graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance from UCSB.  Together, these four are stunning to watch.

The design team for “A Leap of Faith” includes choreographer and artistic director Christopher Pilafian, lighting designer Michael Klaers, music supervisor William Pasley and costume designer Anaya Cullen.

For more information about “A Leap of Faith,” call the box office at 805.893.7721. Tickets are $19 for general admission, and $13 for students, seniors, and UCSB staff and faculty. Tickets can be ordered online now by clicking here.

— Maureen McFadden is a publicist representing Santa Barbara Dance Theater.

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