The UCSB Department of Theater and Dance Presents SANTA BARBARA DANCE THEATER
Artistic Director of Santa Barbara Dance Theater since 2012 (UC Santa Barbara's professional Dance Company in residence), Pilafian is at this writing preparing for the company's winter season, Anima and Animus, which will roll out over two weekends of performances at UCSB's Hatlen Theater, January 13-22. The program includes works by guest choreographer Becca Lemme, Brandon Whited (UCSB Theater and Dance Assistant Professor- and newly minted dance faculty member), and Artistic Director Pilafian himself. Also, included in the program will be a work by mid-century firebrand choreographer (and dancer for the dispossessed) Jane Dudley, as restaged by longtime Dudley interpreter Nancy Colahan. Is there a thread that connects these seemingly disparate dance pieces? Pilafian replies without hesitation.
Christopher Pilafian [Juilliard student, dance artist of stage, television and film, possessor of an extensive CV that would drive Terpsichore herself to stunned bed rest and a cup of tea] is holding forth on his passion project.
"It's important to me that our community knows that Santa Barbara Dance Theater is continuing to commission, create and perform great works of dance art. We take our role in the community very seriously, embodying the best and highest level of contemporary dance. We will continue to inspire the community, the audience, and the students; and continue to forge a path for performing arts in our city and society."
"The thematic thread is palpable. It has to do with gender. What is the power and the grace that flows into our world through the female aspect of the human being? What of the female aspect enriches and expands our collective view?" He pauses.
"We're talking about external appearance and the internal relationship to gender, what Carl Jung referred to as the Anima and Animus. Look, gender is traditionally viewed as a binary construct, but is becoming less so in our contemporary culture. Romantic love, the maturation of the individual, the recognition of the self as reflected in the world, the recognition of the self in the Other; all these elements are connected to gender. So, what part of me is perceiving the Feminine in the world, and in my fellow human beings?" One is reminded by Pilafian's remarks that archaeological finds of the earliest known statuary, dating back to ~ 23,000 BC, indicate a Mesolithic human culture in spiritual thrall to the feminine mystery. What did they wonder that we've forgotten to wonder?
Becca Lemme's contribution, Witnesse, is described by Ms. Lemme as "an homage to the power of the feminine." She continues, "Inspired by ancient symbols of female power, the work rejects the notion that vulnerability and power are mutually exclusive. Witnesse invites both performer and audience member to acknowledge and celebrate the strength and courage required to lay our whole selves bare."
Brandon Whited's piece, Petit Pas, explores dance form itself; in this case duet form. "My piece is a contemporary exploration of the duet form, in dialogue with Marius Petipa's classic 'Grand Pas de Deux' structure. I mean to reframe the balance of power and agency, revisit the gender-centric roots of the form, interrogate the foundation of the traditionally viewed duet form-offering an alternative expression of its essence."
Nancy Colahan, senior lecturer in UCSB's Department of Theater and Dance, will offer a restaging of Jane Dudley's 1944 Cante Flamenco. Dudley was a notably political choreographer in her day, though never overtly so. She was a leading dancer in the Martha Graham Company from '36 to '44, a period that in part encompassed the ruinous and brutal Spanish Civil War. Just as Picasso's angularly upsetting Guernica spoke obliquely to the horrors of that conflict (and reportedly the first city to endure an airborne bombing attack of civilians), so Dudley's Cante Flamenco addresses the conflict using the native Spanish art form as an expressionist medium in whose choreographed language we may revisit the conflict and its rending of a country. Colahan first reconstructed Dudley's powerful dance in 2007 and more recently restaged the piece for former Martha Graham principal dancer Alessandra Prosperi, who performed Colahan's interpretation in 2010 in New York City.
As for Pilafian's piece, Mystique: "My piece is really a sort of tribute. Most of my mentors have been tremendously accomplished, vivid, female artists. I'm very grateful for hearing their voices, their way of perceiving and thinking and functioning. It's a privileged view that did not come from my father, that did not come from my brothers. My piece is a tribute to the forces and impressions I have experienced through a lifetime of relationships with amazingly gifted female friends and colleagues, teachers, and artists." Mystique's textured scenery is the work of Santa Barbara artist Mary Heebner and the original score is by Will Thomas.
And how exactly, if we may ask, did Christopher Pilafian discover the art form that would happily consume the rest of his life?
"I went to a public school in Detroit," he says. "There was a lot of social turmoil. It was a tense and chaotic learning environment." He pauses. "In 8th grade I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to a very small private school just outside the city limits. The school had a modern dance teacher. My peers on the first day said, 'Oh, you've gotta meet Norma.' So, I went. On the first day in her class, we worked on technique, and then there was a choreographic component. We had to compose something and show it to everybody. I still remember what I did: a little microcosm of the things we'd been taught that day. And I just fell in love. It was intoxicating."
Pilafian, who had been a professional child actor, had an epiphany at that moment. "I wasn't pretending," he said.
But what had compelled his fellow students to recommend the meeting in the first place? Pilafian laughs again, almost sheepishly.
"Well..." He chuckles disarmingly. "A bunch of us were lounging around outside on this lawn after school; I mean, the sort of lawn I wouldn't have dreamed of at my public school. We were waiting for the bus to pick us up and take us home." He adds an aside, ("It was an hour-and-a-half ride each way,") then continues, "For some reason, and I don't recall the impulse, I found myself guiding my fellow eighth-graders, as they were lying on the grass, through a yoga exercise in progressive relaxation. From the toes up to the head. They were completely into it!" He laughs. The bus arrived and they all got up. It was then one of the kids approached him. "Oh, you have to meet Norma!" Pilafian laughs again, hard.
"Who was I at that moment?" he says. "I like that guy!"
SANTA BARBARA DANCE THEATER winter program Anima and Animus
Concert Director: Christopher Pilafian
January 13, 14, 19, 21 / 8PM & January 22 / 2PM
UCSB Hatlen Theater
General Admission: $17
Senior, Child, Student, UCSB Faculty/Staff/Alumni: $13