Dance Place Gala Tonight; Success Built on Partnerships

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

Dance Place Gala Tonight; Success Built on Partnerships


Byline: Jean Battey Lewis, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

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. …

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