- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

  Fabian Barnes founded Dance Institute of Washington in 1987 to provide dance training for city children. When he began, his program was modest and his commitment part-time. In those early years, I remember him working with neophyte students for a small public showing, rehearsing in a tiny church basement, with his young dancers trying to maneuver around large pillars.
  In the past few years, DIW has made powerful strides forward. Counting summer dance programs and classes held in two inner-city schools, about 800 students are taught by DIW each year.
  Next week, DIW launches its most ambitious venture: Washington Reflections Dance Project, a professional company of six dancers that includes students who have graduated from DIW as well as professional dancers recently recruited.
  The new group will perform “Remembering U,” a full-evening multimedia work conceived by Mr. Barnes and choreographed by his associate artistic director, Kevin Malone.
  “Remembering U” is a remembrance of and tribute to the heyday of U Street’s prominence as a center of black culture early in the 20th century.
  Pearl Bailey called it “the black Broadway.” Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald played in its bars and dance halls.
  Jazzman Billy Taylor says of that time, “U Street was the middle of the black community … nightclubs, bars, churches, movies; anything you wanted to do was right there on U Street.”
  To flesh out the picture of this vibrant scene, “Remembering U” will have several guest artists, including the Calvin Jones Quintet and two singers.
  Alicia Graf, a former member of Dance Theatre of Harlem who appeared here in memorable performances with that company, is another guest artist.
  “She will do a ballroom dance,” Mr. Barnes says, “because there were elegant balls held at the Whitelaw Hotel in the early days. Then she will dance to ‘Stormy Weather’ in honor of Katherine Dunham, who performed to that music in the movie.
  “‘Stormy Weather’ was a landmark film,” he continues. “It marked a departure from African-American women being pictured as domestics. Lena Horne was actually a very glamorous movie star in it.”
  Mr. Barnes is making strong use of visual resources in “Remembering U.”
  “We were able to use a collection from the Smithsonian, the Scurlock collection,” he says. “Addison Scurlock was a photographer who chronicled U Street in the early and mid-century; we’re projecting his images onstage to suggest the atmosphere of the time.
  “We’re also using fairly extensive excerpts from the video that Hedrick Smith produced for PBS called ‘Ellington’s Washington.’” Mr. Barnes says. “It will set the scene for the narration.”
  Music from the show “Ain’t Misbehavin’” will begin the evening, introducing a scene of the black migration to Washington from the South.
  “We’ll go from there to a cakewalk,” says the director, “to a mooch scene like in a juke joint, to swing dancing. There’s some civil rights protest following that. The dance is really the glue for the whole program.”
  For Mr. Barnes, this program of Washington Reflections Dance Project is only the first step toward the kind of company he has in mind. Right now, the group has the look of a modern dance troupe, but he hopes eventually to develop a classically based company like the one in which he performed — the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
  “Remembering U” and its ambitious staging is the most visible sign of several major steps DIW is taking to be a significant player in the Washington arts community.
  It marks the new company’s debut as a permanent resident of the Lincoln Theater.
  Washington Reflections Dance Project will move into new space this summer. For the next three years, it will be housed in the Mather Building, a new resource renovated by the Cultural Development Corp. Located across from the Martin Luther King Library on G Street NW, the building will have studio space, an art gallery and a black- box theater for eight developing art groups.
  Another important milestone in DIW’s expanding fortunes was the arrival of Ramien Pierre as executive director. Mr. Pierre was in the first group of Vilar Fellows, the program developed at the Kennedy Center to train arts administrators. As part of their training, the fellows took a strategic-planning course taught by Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser.
  “It was a rare opportunity,” Mr. Pierre says. “We were asked to pick a performing arts organization, do some research on it and develop a strategic plan for it. Michael told us we spend countless dollars and hours training artists but virtually no time training the managers for those artists.”
  Mr. Pierre chose to work with DIW last year and segued from that into serving as its full-time executive director this year. One of the things he learned, he says, was the strong connection between doing good work and communicating it.
  “Back in 2001, Fabian was awarded the Oprah Angels Network Use Your Life Award,” Mr. Pierre says. “They came here, shot some footage of him and his kids dancing and then flew him to Chicago and gave him the award. The video was great. It showed the dance institute, what they’re trying to do [and] the founder … getting the plaque from Oprah. They did an amazing job of telling the story of why we do what we do and why what we do is important.”
  Mr. Pierre has since shown the video during a couple of informal fund-raising efforts, and each time, someone has come up to him and offered to write DIW a $1,000 check on the spot.
  In the future for DIW is every dance organization’s dream: a home of its own.
  More than a year ago, DIW entered a bid on land offered for sale by the Capital Revitalization Project Corp. on a part of 14th Street NW that had been devastated and neglected since the riots following the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968. Bids came in mainly from developers who were planning to bring upscale shops and businesses to the area.
  Mr. Barnes says, “We were one of the few community arts organizations who actually made it through the long and grueling bid process. We bid $100,000 and deliberately chose a small parcel developers wouldn’t want. We pointed out all the schools in the area, all the kids, and how few formal arts organizations were there for them.
  “They’re awarding hundreds of millions of dollars down 14th Street; it’s going to be a DC/USA modeled after Harlem/USA on 125th Street in New York. One small organization getting a parcel won’t suffice [for] the community, but it does show they haven’t totally forgotten about the people.”
  Architectural drawings are ready, and within three years, DIW expects to move into a new building with one large studio and three smaller ones.
  Continuing projects will remain: outreach programs in schools, working with children in public housing, after-school and summer classes, an intensive training program for high school students, and the development of the professional company.
  Mr. Barnes is clear about how he wants that company to develop: “We have a very specific community we are part of, and we want to address issues they’re interested in. We have material to work with that deals with African-American themes and issues. It’s a rich, broad source of artistic inspiration.”
  WHAT: “Remembering U” by Washington Reflections Dance Project
  WHEN: May 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m.
  WHERE: Lincoln Theater, 1215 U St. NW
  TICKETS: $12.50 to $35
  PHONE: 202/432-7328

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