Dance Place's 25th Anniversary Benefit Concert on Saturday wasn't only about art; it was also about math. Over the past quarter-century, board members announced at a break in the evening's raft of duets, Dance Place has ushered in thousands of patrons to thousands of concerts and brought in 200,000 underprivileged schoolchildren for performances and summer camps, where they are taught checkbook-balancing as well as one-foot balancing.
Dance Place has tallied up these numbers despite being one of the area's tiniest theaters, tucked into a former welding workshop in Northeast's Brookland. On a good night -- and Saturday's capacity audience constituted a very good night -- it seats fewer than 200.
Other longtime Dance Place associates -- dancers, choreographers, teachers, students -- testified: In addition to presenting local troupes and teaching a broad swath of dance styles, Dance Place has hosted major artists on the cusp of a national profile. Its intimate stage was the site of notorious shock-artist Karen Finley's first D.C. performance, and it was also where Blue Man Group gave its last nonprofit performance before profiting mightily in New York and beyond.
But as the speakers made clear, and as any local dance follower knows, behind the art and the numbers stands Dance Place's most crucial factor: founder and director Carla Perlo, who hasn't let anything -- not the rising rent and rats that forced her out of Adams Morgan nor the reduced funding she grapples with now -- cloud her vision of an energized dance hub. In recent years, Perlo has been ably assisted by dancer-choreographer Deborah Riley, who shares directing duties. The anniversary program was titled "Partners Project: Together & Dancing," framed to pay tribute to Perlo and Riley's teamwork, as well as to Dance Place's role in mothering so many other partnerships in the dance world.
As an example of the type of taut, saucy excellence that typifies Dance Place offerings at their best, the New York-based duo of Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman performed an excerpt from "Under the Skin" that raised the art of dancing with one's shadow to an outrageously whimsical level. Was it a series of look-alike dancers who kept parting the black backdrop and emerging onstage, only to whirl around and make a quick exit through another break in the drape? Or were we watching a video?
Somehow two-dimensional projections fooled the eye long enough for the question to form, before it became clear that Packer and Bridgman were darting in and out against images of themselves darting in and out, multiplied over and over so it looked like a crowd of dancers who couldn't make up their minds about whether to stay or go. Accompanied by a sassy saxophone recording, the piece looked like Fred Astaire meets a door-slamming Noel Coward play by way of a Robert Palmer music video.
Packer and Bridgman will return to Dance Place to perform the complete work next Saturday and Sunday, with live music.
The range of dance in the area was represented in performances such as Nejla Yatkin's "Blood Memories," pairing Yatkin's regal dancing with political science professor Christian Davenport's bitter poetry, "Night and Day," danced by two young hoofers from Tappers With Attitude, and Lawrence Bradford and Lisa Robinson of Smooth & EZ Hand Dance, making a smooth segue into the dance party that ended the evening.
Daniel Burkholder and Sharon Mansur formed perhaps the longest-lived partnership on the program. Their "Present Tense," an improvised duet, grew out of 14 years of collaboration. Burkholder is big and beefy, Mansur is small, wiry and sweetly calm, and remained so even during the many moments when Burkholder would toss her over his shoulder or dangle her upside down. The effort not to register surprise when you've been plucked from your spot like a daisy and upended could only be born of the kind of trust and companionship that this program celebrated.