- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

When Carla Perlo founded Dance Place in 1980, the city had a fractured dance scene: Talented people left for more fertile ground (read New York City); those who stayed often turned to local universities to sustain themselves.

Twenty-five years later, Washington is a mecca for young choreographers and dancers.

It would be hard to overestimate the role Dance Place has played in this transformation. Tonight, its Brookland black-box theater will rock with a gala celebration. Both senior artists, whose years of work helped shape the current scene, and younger artists attracted by their accomplishments will be part of the mix.

Dance Place’s success has been built on partnerships with dancers and the community — which includes schools, benefactors, government and a consortium of presenters. The program will emphasize this collaborative effort with a series of duets.

Although Dance Place began 25 years ago in rented studio space in Adams Morgan — entered via a street now officially renamed Dance Alley — its first five years ended abruptly when the landlord tripled the rent.

At that point, Ms. Perlo says, “I was 32. I had already moved into challenging neighborhoods and cleaned and renovated and rebuilt five studios in the past ten years. I either had to move to New York or buy a studio, because I didn’t want to live in a city where there wasn’t a major center for modern dance.”

The “unsung heroes,” according to Ms. Perlo, were her two successive board chairmen, Jim Epstein and Richard Tilkinton, who helped make it possible for her to buy and renovate Dance Place’s current home in Brookland.

The first year’s budget was $60,000; it has grown slowly and steadily to this year’s $972,000. Dance Place has a staff of 13, including Deborah Riley, who Ms. Perlo says has been “a great part of its success” as her “resident artist, business and artistic partner for 20 years.” This season, Dance Place will offer 44 weekends of performances, to include 123 individual artists and companies.

Even though it started small, with Ms. Perlo not only teaching and choreographing but also running the business side of the operation, Dance Place soon began to enrich the local dance scene in new and creative ways.

“The Kennedy Center was offering groups like Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Dance Theatre of Harlem and the ballet companies,” Ms. Perlo notes, “but that was one aesthetic. It didn’t give our dancers the inspiration and ideas for the kind of work they wanted to do, which was smaller, cutting-edge, being able to combine different art forms.”

Dance Place, through the years, has presented a veritable who’s who of innovative dance in this country and from around the world. It introduced Kei Takei, Eiko and Koma, Garth Fagan, Eleo Pomare, the Blue Man Group, John Kelly, David Rousseve, Stephen Petronio, Ron Brown, David Parsons, Rennie Harris and Savion Glover, an astounding list of artists not previously seen in Washington.

“The joy of nurturing artists and watching them go on to have a lifetime in the field is really rewarding,” Ms. Perlo says, mentioning Bebe Miller, whose first tour was in Washington 25 years ago and who now “has all this notoriety and all this attention.” (Miss Miller launched the Washington dance season this week at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland with a striking multimedia work that proved her originality and boldness were still intact.)

Dance Place continues to find and nurture new talent through co-commissioning projects. Artists this year include Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer from New York, Nejla Yatkin from Washington, Amir Kolben from Israel, Giovanni Luquini from Florida, and Marc Bamuthi Joseph from California.

Dance Place programs this fall:

Sept. 24-25: Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer of Packer/Bridgman Dance

Oct. 1: Dance DC Festival, with free workshops in salsa, belly dance, swing, folk and percussive dance

Oct. 8-9: ODC (Oberlin Dance Collective) from San Francisco

Oct. 15-16: CityDance Ensemble

Oct. 22-23: Jane Franklin Dance with Thompson & Trammel and Shane O’Hara

Oct. 29-30: LEVYdance from San Francisco

Nov. 5-6: Nejla Y. Yatkin/NY2Dance in the premiere of a multimedia solo, “Deconstructing Mata Hari”

Nov. 12-13: Carla & Company, Bosma Dance & Amir Kolben

Nov. 19-20: Raqs Sahara in a program of Middle Eastern dance styles including belly dance.

Dec. 3-4: Ziva Spanish Dance Ensemble

Dec. 10-11: Tappers With Attitude in a 15th-anniversary benefit

Dec. 17-18: Kwanza Celebration with Coyaba Dance Theater

Dec. 19: The Field Showcase

For more details: www.danceplace.org

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