- The Washington Times - Friday, September 24, 2004

Most theaters, alive at night with vibrant performers and bustling audiences, have an eerie, deserted stillness the morning after.

Not so at Washington’s Dance Place, where its black-box theater is transformed in the daytime by the stirring beat of music and a range of classes — modern, African and hip-hop — attended by a wide range of individuals, from child beginners to near-professional adults, all stretching and moving through space.

This transformation is only part of the story that makes Dance Place an unusual cultural resource and in many ways the heart and home of Washington dance.

Although performances attract the most attention — the 165-seat theater presents weekend dance performances the whole year round — they represent only about a third of the organization’s thrust, according to Carla Perlo, founder and co-director with Deborah Riley.

Classes are another third, with the rest devoted to community outreach.

“At our performances, if you’re in the audience, you’ll hear me or Deborah ask, ‘How many people are new here to Dance Place?’ ” Ms. Perlo says. “And usually about a third of the audience raises their hand, which is very exciting. It means new people are discovering us and in many cases discovering dance as an art form. It really makes us feel we’re doing our mission: to grow the field of dance in Washington and nationally.”

The performance schedule this season illustrates the many paths Dance Place follows toward that goal.

One way is its co-commissioning project. This season, there are four in the works. Two are commissions awarded for the following year, but those two artists will also appear in programs this season — Nejla Yatkin, a tall, striking dancer and vivid choreographer (Nov. 13-14) and Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who uses rap, tap, jazz, West African dance and hip-hop in his work (April 16-17, 2005).

New works will be presented by two artists commissioned last year: Billy Siegenfeld’s Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, a mix of swing, blues and Latin jazz, offers two premieres Nov. 5-7; Gesel Mason, teamed with Philadelphia choreographer and video artist Tania Isaac, brings a new work May 14-15.

A second programming thrust is a series of festivals grouping several companies together.

“That gives a variety of groups a way to develop other audiences. Artists are not isolated but can view each other’s work on shared programs,” Ms. Perlo says, nothing that Dance Place will be doing that with its opening festival of the season Oct. 2.

“We’re extending that festival to October 9 to 10 because El Teatro de Danza Contemporaneo de El Salvador could not get their visas,” she says. “So Dance DC with its shared programs will have modern dance, Latin dance, Romanian and Israeli folk dance, and steps and hip-hop.”

The next shared festival is Dec. 3-5 and will feature step, the rhythmic percussive stepping that originated in Africa, rap, tap and hip-hop.

The Youth Festival, April 30 and May 1, focuses on a variety of children’s companies and is one of several programs planned for family audiences. Then comes the large Dance Africa DC, a weeklong festival June 5-12.

Dance Place is also the pre-eminent source of support for a wide range of Washington-based artists.

“We provide them with home seasons,” Ms. Perlo says. “We nurture them and allow them to grow their audiences and their art.”

This year, they have Jane Franklin and Vincent Thomas, Havana Select, Carla & Company, Laura Schandelmeier, CrossCurrents, KanKouran, Tommy Parlon, Alvin Mayes, Washington Reflections Dance (Fabian Barnes’ company), Coyaba Dance Theater, Sharon Mansur, Cathy Paine, Deborah Riley, Adrian Clancy, CityDance, and Nancy Havlik.

A final component of the Dance Place performing series is the presentation of visiting artists from across the United States. This season, that will include Levydance from San Francisco, Oct. 23-24; Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers with David Leonhardt Jazz Group from Philadelphia, March 19-20; and Ellis Wood Dance from New York, June 25-26.

As Dance Place enters its 24th year, Carla Perlo says her job hasn’t gotten any easier.

As the program continues to grow, she explains, the staff, budget, facility and payroll also have to grow.

“In 1986, when we moved to our present home, we had three staff people, a budget of $200,000 and serviced about 5,000 people. Now we have a staff of 14, our budget is $985,000 and we serve 25,000.”

“The performing series really is a full-time job,” Ms. Perlo says. “I could do it 100 percent of the time, yet I don’t have that luxury.”

WHAT: Dance DC Festival

WHEN: All day Oct. 2 with a performance at 7 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 8 p.m., Oct. 10 at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Dance Place, 3225 8th St. NE

TICKETS: Free Oct. 2, but reservations required; $6 to $15 Oct. 9-10

PHONE: 202/269-1600

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide