- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

Talking to Carla Perlo, one of the most creative forces on the local dance scene, you immediately sense the multiple strengths she brings to her job as founder-director of Dance Place, in its 27th year.

She not only teaches dance, choreographs and runs her own company but also, with co-director Deborah Riley (who runs her own company, too) oversees multiple projects both at Dance Place and in outreach to the community.

Miss Perlo forges dynamic partnerships with other local arts organizations; attends to the needs and comforts of visiting artists who perform in her black-box theater, which runs 44 weeks a year; and hires and supervises a continuous supply of eager young men and women who help her keep the multiple balls in the air. Finally, she does it all with a generosity of spirit that makes Dance Place an inclusive, welcoming place for dancers, audiences and new ideas.

“Art reflects what’s happening in our society,” Miss Perlo says. “We’re much more diverse than we’ve ever been, and people’s minds are opening to all these different, lovely cultures. You have a richness; you begin to move away from a homogenous art. It’s very exciting.”

She points out what Washington Ballet Director Septime Webre is doing to bring Cuban culture and his Latin background to his company and adds, “You see a wide array of African companies here that are just blossoming, with new, younger voices being heard in Step Afrika! as well as hip-hop. Rennie Harris took hip-hop from the streets of Philadelphia onto the stage some 15 years ago — that was unique. When the Kennedy Center wants to co-present Olive Dance Theatre with us, I’d say that hip-hop has arrived.”

Cultural exchange is a two-way street. Not only are ethnic dance groups coming our way, but Washington dancers also are going abroad as never before.

“Step Afrika! was just in Vietnam,” Miss Perlo notes. “Washington Reflections has had several trips abroad as ambassadors from D.C. Liz Lerman has always been all over the United States and the world. Helanius Wilkins with Edgeworks is doing national touring; Nejla Yatkin is continually performing abroad; and Dana Tai Soon Burgess, too — that’s just to name a few.”

One of the biggest challenges facing this expanding dance scene is coping with its own success — new theaters, more dance groups, more performing artists. “Everyone wants a venue, an audience, funding, arts administrators,” Miss Perlo observes. “It’s difficult to spread those resources around.”

One way Dance Place has faced this expanding world has been to branch out into new spaces this season. In addition to shows in its own space, Dance Place will present performances at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, the ARK and the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Lansburgh Theatre.

Another possibility is for Dance Place to build itself a larger, state-of-the-art theater-studio in its present location, going from a 160-seat to a 225-seat theater. Miss Perlo says no decision will be made on that until next year.

In the meantime, she and her staff work under the pressure of the here and now. “Because we’re presenting so much,” she says, “it’s rigorous dealing with customer service all across the board — the audiences, our students, our visiting artists — to make sure they’re being taken care of seven days a week from 8:30 in the morning ‘til about 10 o’clock at night.”

Dance Place recently began marketing several themed series to help audiences cut through too many dizzying choices and zero in on groups that match their special interests.

This year there are five series. (For more information go to www.danceplace.org.) All performances are at Dance Place except where noted.

“ ’Voices of the African Diaspora’ is the theme of one series,” Miss Perlo says. “A highlight will be ‘Winter Heat,’ a co-presentation with the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Lansburgh Theatre in November. Three high-profile black groups are appearing: Coyaba, with African roots; Step Afrika! with exciting step dancing; and Washington Reflections with contemporary ballet.” Miss Perlo also mentions Farafina Kan and a Kwanzaa celebration in December and Dance Place’s big yearly festival, Dance Afrika, in June.

A second series, “Contemporary Voices,” focuses on modern dance. Among its offerings are a premiere by Miss Perlo’s own Carla and Company; Philadanco, which will appear at the Atlas; Washington Reflections; Clancy Works; Deborah Riley Dance Projects; Cross Currents; and Bosma Dance.

The third series, “Pushing the Boundaries,” emphasizes modern dance, often with political themes, and includes Levy Dance from San Francisco, Tim Miller, Pearson Widrig Dance Theatre, Victoria Marks, and Leine & Roebana from the Netherlands.

“Urban Artistry,” inspired by living in the city, includes Tappers With Attitude and Olive Dance Theatre.

The final series, “World Dance,” includes Sona Fabriano Tango Company, Daniel Phoenix Singh, and an Asian Festival at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.

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