- The Washington Times - Friday, October 14, 2005

Ed Tyler, a choreographer who builds a whole world on his stage, creates a place where surreal, poetic things happen that will get under your skin.

Jane Jerardi, a young performance artist, experiments with unconventional spaces — art galleries, a record shop, a club — reaching out for new dance audiences.

Fabian Barnes, founder of a bustling school and the predominately black Washington Reflections Dance Company, is building a specially designed new home for both in Columbia Heights that is set to open next summer.

What these three disparate artists have in common is that they are all performing world premieres this month commissioned by the Washington Performing Arts Society and made possible by grants to WPAS from the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation. (The work of a fourth choreographer in the series, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, will be presented in the spring.)

This innovative project is the brainchild of Rose Ann Cleveland, a former director of programming at WPAS who has since moved on to the Cafritz Foundation.

“We wanted to show a range of styles from established and emerging choreographers,” Ms. Cleveland says. “We also wanted choreographers who were comfortable talking about their work and their process. We were lucky to find very articulate dancers.”

Mr. Tyler, she adds, has an “imaginative” way of taking dance “to something eternal; he challenges our assumptions. Jane Jerardi is an emerging choreographer who brings elements of community into her work.”

In the case of Mr. Barnes, Ms. Cleveland says the grant was calculated to help develop a strong black company, “in effect given to the company rather than to a talented choreographer.”

For Mr. Tyler, whose “Sanctuary” is being performed tonight at the newly renovated Gala Hispanic-Tivoli Theatre, this commission has unleashed reserves of creative energy.

“It’s given me a taste of what people like Susan Marshall and Bill T. Jones have to realize their full vision,” he says, referring to two nationally recognized icons of experimental dance. “There is a point where money just helps tremendously to allow your vision to be complete.”

Mr. Tyler conceives a world where strange, wondrous things happen, full of large scenic effects and odd, unsettling costumes. Prior to receiving his grant, the choreographer built his own sets and self-presented his work. Although this took time away from his creative efforts, he says it made him savvy about finding ways to create his striking productions on a pittance. “Money flies fast when you have to bring other people into the project,” he observes wryly.

The patronage he has received for “Sanctuary” has been life-altering, but economic realities have not disappeared, although the support — including his six dancers’ salaries, sets, theater rental, publicity and ticket management — will probably amount to $28,000. In addition, his own fee as choreographer is $5,000, supplemented with a $5,000 Pola Nirenska award given him this fall. He quit his full-time job managing a bookstore and jokes that he doesn’t know what he’ll be doing in two weeks.

To Miss Jerardi, whose “The Efficiency Project” premieres on Oct. 22 at the Tivoli Theatre, the commission from WPAS is a sea change. “It’s been significant to me personally to have someone invest in my entire process, not just a specific piece. This new work is a trio; I’ve been doing mostly solos because I couldn’t afford to pay dancers. The support also meant I could commission a score.”

The choreographer became intrigued with the way we expend time and energy in day-to-day life. In the studio, she and her dancers explored their relationship to time; they made charts of their commutes; they did improvisations; they looked at multi-tasking.

“To all of a sudden be given permission to think big is a real gift,” Ms. Jerardi says. “A lot of artists — at least me in the past — thought small because that’s all that was feasible. You can’t expect local choreographers to be interesting, enlightening, moving, and shape the landscape of the city if they’re not supported.”

Mr. Barnes, whose world premiere takes place Oct. 29 at the Lincoln Theatre, is equally enthusiastic about what the commission means to his company.

“The Kennedy Center presents our Kwanzaa celebration every Christmas, but this is the first time Washington Reflections Dance Company has been presented as an entity,” he says. “With an established presenter like WPAS giving us this opportunity, it takes a lot of pressure off me and frees me to go into the studio and do something creative.”

The director invited his colleagues in the company, Dean Anderson and Derrick Stears, to join him in creating “Dance Forever.” Mr. Barnes harked back to his days with Dance Theatre of Harlem. “When I was living in New York as a young dancer, the whole voguing craze came along. I want to capture that energy and spontaneity using my background as a classical dancer. I’m trying to exemplify the freedom of the human spirit, and the release I found as a young dancer going to a nightclub just to be free and lose myself in movement.”

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