ON THE TOP floor of the Cairo apartment building, with half of Washington sprawling below, Ron Paul cut a tiny piece from a Granny Smith apple and explained why it is not enoughto choreograph a dance and dance it.
"You get a company together, and you find a stage, and you put on a program," he said. "And then what? You can't do the same program again. You set up another concert six months later, and by then all your dancers have moved to New York."
There is no question of paying the dancers, of course. A young group is lucky to wangle free rehearsal space. Paul, Lee Wenger and Bruce Vrana are the New Performing Dance Company of Durham, N.C. Wenger is the artistic director, and until Paul moved to Washington a few months ago he was the artist-in-residence. He is now in charge of Washington public relations.
The titles may seem a little top-heavy, but they are a way of saying that performers who don't float comfortably on grants and fame have to do it all themselves. Saturday (3 and 8 p.m.) and Sunday (3 p.m.) the company will present a studio concert at St. James Episcopal Church, 222 8th St. NE. Dance Co-Op is co-sponsor, which means they supply the 60 or so chairs in return for Paul handling their mailings.
Mailings are what Paul calls a production problem. A friend takes publicity photos for free, but there are still the intricacies of getting onto listings in the papers ("the deadlines are always changing") and which of the 250 fliers to send to whom.
That's nothing. Costumes are a production problem. The costume budget is $15. For a recent number, Paul cut the collars off some old polo shirts and dyed some used jumpsuits. Sets are a production problem. He has nailed together a pair of trellises for the forthcoming concert. It would be nice to have mysterious light streaming through the trellises, but he will have no lights. It would be nice to have wings for the dancers to retreat behind. They are using old flats and a backdrop from an early concert.
There will be a curtain. Paul hasn't seen it yet.
"We do have plenty of volunteer help. People who sew and dye stuff for us. We found someone who knows how to sew stretch fabrics."
Sewing stretch fabrics is an arcane art on the order of carving walnut shells. Lee Wenger's husband has built platforms to help the sight lines at the concert, to be performed on a new oak floor at the church. The dancers put much of their income into the work. Wenger, who has two children, teaches modern dance, works a 60-hour week. Paul teaches at the Joy of Motion, does classes with older people. Vrana is a biology lab technician.
Some production problems are things you can't solve with all the good-will in the world. Suppose you have a dance that absolutely depends on the dancers disappearing, to leave a bare stage. And you have no wings. Do you tell the dancers simply to freeze at the end? Scuttle behind the backdrop?
"We know the critics understand these things," Paul said, chipping away at his Granny Smith, neatly laid out with some brie. "But when you have scene changes the audience wonders, Am I supposed to be seeing this? And so on. We're thinking of having a commentator to cover at those times. It's a risk."
The company wants to expand its performance schedule to Baltimore and Boston to get more exposure for the various works. Dancers need to have their dances seen and talked about so they can be improved. "If you only show in one or two cities, it forces you to produce too much work. You need a repertoire. We did one dance eight times last year, and we got it honed down to a fine point."
To get more mileage from the current program, the company will repeat it in February at Duke University. Meanwhile, Paul, who commutes to Durham weekends, is looking for a residency at the University of North Carolina, where he took his MFA two years ago. He wants to complete a work with 20 dancers, "something I have to get out of my system; it's about patterns and space," tape it and show it around. All three dancers choreograph dances in their programs, and the subtly different styles, performed by beautifully coordinated bodies, add interest to what has been called a "post-post-modern" group.
"Busy!" muttered Ron Paul. "I haven't had time to shave for three days!"
The Granny Smith was gone. So much for lunch.