The program by Perlo/Bloom & Company this past weekend marked the start of a second year for the Dance Place -- Washington's outstanding center for contemporary dance -- in its new quarters in Brookland. As such, the event had momentous symbolic significance.
The Perlo/Bloom troupe is the primary resident group at Dance Place, which presents a year-round series of dance events featuring indigenous and visiting companies. Largely because of the series, Dance Place has become over the years -- in its former home in Adams-Morgan and now in Northeast -- the focal point of contemporary dance activity in the metropolitan area and, nationally also, a model showcase as an "alternative space" for dance.
Moreover, but for dancer-choreographer Carla Perlo and her musician husband Steve Bloom, the founder-directors of Perlo/Bloom & Company and Dance Place as well, there'd be no Dance Place nor any of the performances, classes, workshops, outreach and inreach projects that it has come to stand for. This has been recognized in many ways, most recently (last October) by a hefty challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that, when fully matched, will furnish $400,000 over a three-year period, half of which will go toward the purchase and renovation of the Brookland property and half toward artistic initiatives.
It would be gratifying, therefore, to report that the Perlo/Bloom program was on the same artistic level as its symbolic import, but that wasn't the case. Perlo's choreography, the backbone of the event, wasn't strong enough to sustain the evening. Nor did the additional dance works, by Lesa McLaughlin and Deborah Riley, add much in the way of choreographic merit. The dancing -- by nine members of the troupe, including Perlo and McLaughlin -- was fine but couldn't, in itself, make up for the shortcomings.
The evening's one premiere was Perlo's "The Flight of Time," the first of a planned series of 16 commissioned works to be made possible by the NEA grant. Bloom and his frequent collaborator Mike Vargas composed the jazz score. The dance is a lyrical solo for Perlo, highlighted by fluttering, undulating arm and hand movements, presumably emblematic of time's passage. The choreography strives for a meditative quality but is undercut by the bland conventionality of its imagery and devices.
Similar drawbacks pertained to the two earlier Perlo offerings -- "Zone," a duet on the theme of struggle for Perlo and Alvin Mayes, and "Now You See Them ...," a group work that uses film in counterpoint to the dancers but extracts little advantage from the combination of media.
The pieces by McLaughlin and Riley both suggested a feminist viewpoint without casting any fresh choreographic light on the relationship between the sexes. McLaughlin's "All Debts Public and Private" pits a male-female duet featuring masculine brutality against a female-female pairing emphasizing mutual support and affection; but the point gets blurred in a welter of seemingly unrelated material. Riley's "Steel Angel," for five women, starts out with a male voice discoursing on "patriarchal morality," but the ensuing dance, characterized by a biceps-flexing motif and a raspy score by Susan Mumford, is structurally messy and unconvincing.
Nothing can detract from Perlo's tireless dedication and unparalleled accomplishment on behalf of dance in Washington. The world is such, however, that leadership in one realm doesn't necessarily extend to another -- in this respect, as in others, life can be unfair.