Girls Whirled – Santa Barbara Dance Arts presents its 15th Configuration Showcase

Rod Tucknott photos
Rod Tucknott photos

Seeing a line of people outside Center Stage Theater, with only a few tickets left, can make a dancer feel “10 feet tall,” says Alana Tillim, artistic director of “Configuration” and co-director of Santa Barbara Dance Arts. This is especially true when the dancers are still middle- and high-schoolers. One week into its two-week run, this 15th year of this dance showcase has been selling out.

“It’s the first year in over a decade that over half the dancers on stage are unknown,” Ms. Tillim says, adding that last year’s seniors have graduated and gone on.

Ms. Tillim keeps good tabs on her up-and-coming students. The entire cast from “Configuration’s” first year — when Laguna Blanca hosted the show — follows her and each other on Facebook. A lot are dancing professionally, or even nearing the end of early careers.

The evening is also a mix of professional and student choreography.

And this year marks a first-time experimentation with film and dance, where Ms. Tillim and Heather Carney took students to the beach for site-specific work. “This has been blowing audiences away,” Ms. Tillim says.

Ms. Tillim also recently lost her father, so grief and recovery have become the theme in this multimedia work, “Change of Time.” It’s a heavy subject, but the students have not only risen to the subject matter, but some have experienced it, or have fully understood it. “At one point last weekend, one dancer visibly choked up on stage,” Ms. Tillim says. “I think that speaks volumes about how the art form can be so powerful.”

Ms. Tillim started in childhood as a gymnast who had to rethink her burgeoning career when she injured her back. She transitioned to dance soon after, but with a lot of her students, she can see the dance bug taking hold very quickly. But you either get it or you don’t, and there’s that moment she’s seen time and again, where something clicks and a teenage girl becomes consumed with the art form.

“It’s very difficult to be committed to dance,” Ms. Tillim says. “So much about dance is about looking after your body and respecting it. But that leads to kids staying out of trouble, and parents like that. But all the girls still go through things in high school. I did. We all did.”

And yes, this year the company is all girls, which had lead to the creation of the closing number “Growing Up Girl.” Interspersed with interviews with students and parents, the work represents a breadth of young female experience, from babies to school girls and “mean girls” to young women. All 36 members of the company take the stage for it.

Girls and dance: that’s the world they all work and play in, and that makes Ms. Tillim very aware of the importance of her work. “This is about helping create the next generation of young women, which is just as important as learning a pirouette.”

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo
Cost: $17/$10
Information: 963-0408 or

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