The wages of art: Selah Dance Collective premieres first work

Alannah Pique, a UCSB alumni, is one of the founders of the SELAH Contemporary Dance Collective.
Alannah Pique, a UCSB alumni, is one of the founders of the SELAH Contemporary Dance Collective.

The SELAH Contemporary Dance Collective may sound familiar to those who have attended numerous showcases in Santa Barbara like Nectar, Fusion, Dance Alliance or Nebula’s HH11, but they have not had a full show to themselves until now. On Saturday, they will premiere “Wages,” a 40-minute work that they’ve been performing in excerpts since last year.

The evening will be preceded by two works from Montecito School of Ballet, where Meredith Cabaniss, one of SELAH’s founders, teaches contemporary dance.

SELAH started in January 2014 when three UCSB alumni – Ms. Cabaniss, Alannah Pique and Molly McCord – while in a yoga studio downtown decided to put together a work for the showcase evening known as “Kinesis.” Ms. Cabaniss had just graduated – with a head filled with choreography ideas. They premiered in March 2014 as part of Nectar’s evening of healing-based works at Yoga Soup.

“Wages” has its basis in the Bible quote from the book of Romans: “For the wages of sin is death.”

“The concept of sin is so interesting to me,” Ms. Cabaniss says. “Like what is right, what is wrong and how morality is something we’re always exploring in art anyway. And the concept of a wage, and how wages are a necessary evil in society. We have to earn a wage to survive.”

On top of that, she has layered in the idea of a virus and how the body deals with it, how it passes it on and the moral quandary that comes along with that. Originally, Ms. Cabaniss had planned two endings for the work: in one her protagonist recovers and in the other she does not – and she wanted to premiere them on alternate nights. But now there’s just one ending and she will not say which one, pardon the pun, survived.

The work has a narrative, and Ms. Cabaniss has added a libretto to open the show to set up that narrative. The emotions are autobiographical, she says, but not necessarily the narrative. “But I pour all of myself into my work,” she says. “It’s a terrifying process. And because I control everything about the work from the dancing to the lighting and music, it feels like that’s all me up there on the stage, even though I’m not up there in person.”

Ms. Cabaniss grew up on the East Coast and was trained in tap and ballet. When she came to UCSB she took her first modern dance class and fell in love with the form.

“The first day I studied with Mira Kingsley I walked away not knowing how to interact with the floor,” she says. “I came away bruised and bleeding and very, very happy. Coming from ballet, I had a vocabulary that I had used for years and years. To be open to break that open and create a new vocabulary was very exciting.”

Other members of the company include Jonathan Eymann, Erin McCord (Molly’s younger sister), Gérald Pierre, Natalie Reina, Bianca Salazar and Jeff Schultz, representing an age range of 18 to 35.

The Montecito Ballet pieces will complement all that modern dance with excerpts from “Peter Rabbit” and “Irish Fantasy.” Because Ms. Cabaniss came so late to modern dance and didn’t really know it existed, she’s excited that the young dancers will get to stay and watch.

SELAH is looking to the fall to work on their next piece, as well as working with Nebula. “I have the name and the idea all ready to go,” she says, but alas, she’s not divulging them. We’ll have “Wages” to tide us over.

Montecito School of Ballet Show & “Wages”: A SELAH Dance Collective World Premiere
When: 7 p.m. Saturday (8 p.m. for Selah)
Where: Marjorie Luke Theatre, 721 E. Cota St.
Cost: $12-$16 MSB, $15 SELAH, $22 combo

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