This month, the Santa Barbara Dance Theatre — UCSB’s resident professional dance company — will present its first public performances since celebrated faculty member Christopher Pilafian took over as the SBDT’s artistic director last year.

The SBDT was founded in 1978 and operated under the direction of Jerry Pearson for the past two decades until the longtime director stepped down in 2011, leaving the company’s future hanging in the balance. Pilafian, Vice Chair of UCSB’s Department of Theater and Dance, took on the role and is bringing the SBDT back to the limelight with five performances of “A Leap of Faith” at Hatlen Theatre from Jan. 16-20.

According to Pilafian, “A Leap of Faith” is a raw, creative project involving inspirational collaboration between himself and the dancers.

“The title springs from the nature of the project itself; it involves me taking a required leap of faith on my part,” Pilafian said. “The pieces have evolved along very intuitive and organic lines. When I watch how my dancers characterize my ideas, I feel that I am as much a witness as a choreographer.”

In order to create an intimate performance attentive to individual characteristics and movement, Pilafian chose just four dancers — Christina Sanchez and UCSB alumni Tracy Kofford, Kyle Castillo and Monica Ford — to perform the piece as SBDT’s core company. Pilafian said he hired the four specifically for their “distinct individuality, artistic depth and a high level of skill as dancers.”

Since January 2012, the quartet has presented short previews of dance repetoire, garnering a large amount of preliminary praise for the upcoming show. “A Leap of Faith” so far consists of 22 separate sections featuring quartets and solos of varying styles and moods.

“Bravo California!” web show host Daniel Kepl said he felt Pilafian’s artistic attention to individual dancers gave the performance a unique and enticing quality.

“What I saw very distinctly was very intelligent, very fascinating in detailed movement [with an] incredible soundscape,” Kepl said.

Pilafian, who has worked with his dancers for several hours each day over the past year, said he appreciates the emotional intensity of audience reactions to “A Leap of Faith.”

“I’ve been struck by the way people respond to the work,” Pilafian said. “There is depth in their response. Audience members have commented on the distinctness of the dancers. They felt they had come to know to the individuals.”

According to Pilafian, he hopes to grow SBDT in the future by bringing in new choreographers and taking certain performances outside the Santa Barbara area. Overall, Pilafian said he wants to continue to inspire members of the arts community and help shape the future of contemporary dance.

In the meantime, Pilafian said he looks to “A Leap of Faith” as an invitation for audience members to explore their own feelings and ideas about humanity through the lens of art and dance.

“I hope that audience members are inspired to reconsider their view of human nature,” Pilafian said. “There is something about ‘A Leap of Faith’ that appears very personal; within that, people will see themselves reflected in the work. I hope that that they are changed by the work in some way, hopefully for the better.”

Tickets are $19 for general admission and $13 for students, faculty, staff and seniors. For more information, visit the UCSB Department of Theater and Dance website at


A version of this article appeared on page 3 of January 7th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.