If musicophiles are starved for original sounds in Santa Barbara, then dance lovers are anorexic. This city, despite its abundance of talent, offers slim pickings for those craving creative, contemporary dance performances.
The Santa Barbara Dance Alliance is unique in its mission to support local up-and-coming choreographers. On Jan. 25 and 26, SBDA will present New Works: 12 Santa Barbara Choreographers, providing audiences with a rare opportunity to experience original pieces of contemporary modern dance, ballet and jazz. The majority of the 12 choreographers have a connection to the Santa Barbara area – four of them are faculty members in the dance division of UCSB’s Dramatic Arts Dept. In addition, UCSB dance students perform many of the featured works.
“[The dance faculty] has a large representation in this upcoming event and our students are performing,” UCSB dance professor and contributing choreographer Tonia Shimin said. “The balance shifts each year as to how much involvement [the faculty] has; it depends on who submits work and who is ready with work. It just happened that four of us were ready to do things this year. We also have current students performing in Delila [Moseley’s] piece and in mine. And one of the performers in Nancy [Colahan’s] piece is a [UCSB] alumnus”
The fourth contributing faculty member, Stephanie Nugent, has only recently been appointed as an assistant dance professor at UCSB. Her piece, Bathers, was conceived and developed through the use of what she describes as “Contact Improvisation,” a technique based on high-flying bodies and weight balance. Colahan’s work, Shari’s Foray, was created as a soloist piece for recent UCSB graduate Shari Brookler, for whom Colahan has been a mentor.
“I wanted to help [Brookler] grow by offering her a solo that possesses different dynamic approaches,” Colahan said. “The piece is sophisticated in its rhythms and weight changes – technically precise, yet it requires an internal dialogue and a very delicate touch.”
Moseley’s contribution, New Works, will be performed by eight members of the UCSB Dance Company, the student company in residence. SBDA Executive Director Julie McLeod believes this work will be especially appealing to younger audiences.
“Delila [Moseley] has choreographed a really hot contemporary dance piece that students will really like,” she said.
Shimin, also a professor in the UCSB Dance Division, will present Pilgrim, to be performed by senior dance major Joy Williams. The piece was envisaged as the physical manifestation of a religious construct.
“The piece is inspired by the spiritual, “The City of Heaven,” sung and spoken by Jessye Norman,” Shimin said. “The work represents a journey towards a place of spirit and home.”
Shimin, an award-winning choreographer, came to UCSB 20 years ago as a guest artist and decided to stay. She has been involved with SBDA since arriving in Santa Barbara in 1980 and has served on its board of directors.
“I have had works produced by [SBDA] since the beginning of the choreographers’ concerts,” she said. “SBDA is totally unique to Santa Barbara because it is the one dance-presenting organization that we have. From my experience, it has been a wonderful contribution to the community and to dance artists because it gives a place for works to be seen and produced in a viable way.”
The primary difficulty for one-person productions by up-and-coming choreographers is the immense cost involved. SBDA organizes collaborative performances so that the expense is shared among many. Shimin explained that SBDA receives grant money, which helps to allay the cost of production.
“Other than the few companies that we have [in Santa Barbara], SBDA is one of the only venues we have,” she said. “[It] is a wonderful addition in helping to promote artistry and audience.”
McLeod concurred with this sentiment and clarified the alliance’s mission and philosophy.
“SBDA was formed in 1979. Its purpose is to allow choreographers in Santa Barbara a space to put on their works,” McLeod said. “SBDA sets up the technical [side of things] – the publicity, promotion and rehearsal space. This means that choreographers only have to do their choreography. For the most part, SBDA provides a forum for presenting work that might not otherwise be seen.”
This unique opportunity for choreographers extends to all sectors of the community. SBDA has a youth program called On the Verge, which allows 15-16 teenagers to showcase their work at the Lobero Theater in downtown Santa Barbara.
“[The teens] work with a mentor and attend workshops with well-known choreographers,” McLeod said. “Then they perform their pieces on Mother’s Day (May 12).”
New Works offers audiences a rare opportunity to view local and visiting talent. Shimin believes students who attend the show will get to see a diverse cross-section of dance styles and experience different voices being expressed in different ways. She feels strongly that dance offers a unique quality, unmatched by any other performing art.
“There is an immediacy with dance; there is a gut response, a visceral response that audiences can receive,” she said. “Dance is a deep connector of humanity.”