one of the major presenters of contemporary dance in this city and the nation -- may lose its home to the march of real estate development in the Adams-Morgan community.
In a statement released yesterday, the Dance Place staff said that it may have to vacate its quarters on 18th Street NW by Nov. 1 because the building's new owners want to raise the rent, to $6,000 from $1,550.
Though the building was sold last month to Hoskinson & Davis Inc., no new lease has been signed. John Hoskinson, one of the new owners, confirmed yesterday that the firm is asking $6,000 a month.
"The rents were way below the market in that building. We would be delighted to have the Dance Place stay, but whether we will be able to come to an agreement on rent is unknown," he said. "We have invited Carla Perlo to meet with us after her vacation to discuss a transitional rent through January, which would give them some breathing room and allow them to seek additional sources of funds."
Perlo, artistic director of Dance Place, said by phone from Rehoboth yesterday:
"This was a hell of a way to start my vacation -- I heard about the rent increase one day after my arrival here. We had hoped, once the building was sold, that we could at least stay at our present site through January. We are still trying to negotiate with the new owners for some middle ground until then. But I spoke to Hoskinson from here a few days ago, and he said that though he'd like to see us stay, and he's a supporter of the arts -- I know of at least one dance group he's helped in the past -- the bottom line is his investment. He said he's concerned about the Dance Place, but the increased rent is what he needs to carry the building.
"I find it impossible to think of any arts group being able to pay $72,000 a year in rent. We -- the Dance Place -- are looking for alternative spaces, preferably in Adams-Morgan or nearby, but at the moment I don't know of any that would be adequate for performance and studio use as well."
This kind of displacement of arts groups is an old story in other cities including New York, where small arts troupes have moved to depressed areas they could afford, helped make them more attractive to middle-class shopkeepers, restaurateurs, developers and the public, and then been forced to relocate as rents skyrocket -- the "gentrification" syndrome.
"If we absolutely have to, we'll try to find studio space in Adams-Morgan, and take the performances to a variety of other theaters, perhaps with cosponsorship involved," Perlo said. "At any rate, we are going to go ahead with the performance series we've announced for '85/'86. We'll be able to start the series in our present space with the events for September and October; but we're fully committed to the rest of the series, no matter where it has to be."
The planned '85/'86 season for Dance Place illustrates the depth and level of artistic activity the institution has come to represent here. As originally scheduled, it calls for 40 weeks of performance by local, national and international ensembles. This season also will mark the entry of the Dance Place into the National Performance Network, a new program that is helping arts groups across the nation to tour under improved artistic and economic conditions. Such groups as the New Dance Ensemble from Minneapolis and Donald Bryd & Company from New York are scheduled for extended residencies and performances at Dance Place as part of the network.
The irony of the current situation is that the D.C. City Council recently passed a bill naming the only entranceway to Dance Place -- an unpaved lane connecting Columbia Road and 18th Street -- "Dance Alley," in recognition of the Dance Place's contribution to civic and cultural betterment in Adams-Morgan.
Dance Place still intends to go ahead with a Dance Alley dedication on Sept. 6, with guest speakers from the worlds of politics and the arts and benefit performances by the African music group Mamaya, even though the organization itself may have to leave the neighborhood in another two months.
In the Dance Place statement yesterday, D.C. City Councilman Frank Smith was quoted as saying, "The Dance Place is important to the fabric of Adams-Morgan. It must be retained at all costs, and my office will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to keep the Dance Place in the community."
James Backas, executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, said that he and associates would be trying to help Dance Place, and that "we have been working on a longer-range plan to deal with the epidemic problem of affordable space for arts groups; we're trying to work out what the city could do -- in the way of regulations, tax credits, zoning laws and so forth -- for private developers to enable them to exist profitably but at the same time keep the entire city from looking like K Street at night."
"I hope our student body and audience will follow us to different venues, if necessary," Perlo said. "We have a stronger staff and board now than ever, and I hope they will help pull us through this period. If I weren't an artist, all this would be really devastating, but I'm still optimistic."