Dance Place opens pared-down 44th season with progressive concert

For festival of new and recent works by local artists, audience walks from studio to gallery to park to theater along 8th Street.

When Dance Place opened its season each September, it heralded a surfeit of dance performances for the next 11 months. In fact, the nationally known presenter for decades offered up live dance performances across genres from modern to African forms, tap, bharata natyam (a classical Indian form), hip hop, flamenco, performance art, post-modern, raks sharki (belly dance), salsa rueda, stepping, even contemporary ballet, to mention just a few. Dance lovers could be assured of a show nearly every weekend of the year from September through June, with a smattering of performance options spread across the summer. Most years during its heyday, Dance Place presented between 35 and 45 weeks of dance annually, from both regional companies and national and international artists. Among those were first DC performances (pre–Kennedy Center invitations) from David Parsons Dance, Urban Bush Women, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, Rennie Harris/Puremovement, Blue Man Group, and dozens of others. And along with well-curated programming, the organization offered professional and recreational studio classes in modern dance, West African dance and other forms, and a free summer arts camp for neighborhood children.

The feat, presenting more dance annually than the Kennedy Center, happened under the indefatigable visionary leadership of founding director Carla Perlo and her co-director Deborah Riley. Since they stepped away from leadership in 2017, the nationally renowned organization has struggled to find its new identity under two different artistic directors, an acting director, a global pandemic, and presently little institutional knowledge regarding the organization’s outsized influence in the dance world.

But season openings always offer a fresh opportunity to hope.

Max Maisey, Sara Bradna, Ian Edwards, and Sophia Sheahan in ‘into the fields’ choreographed by Kyoko Fujimoto. Photo by Chandler Bramstedt.

The 2023/24 season marks Dance Place’s 44th year. September 9 and 10, the organization chose to continue a tradition of showcasing locally based artists in new and recent works, which dates back to the Perlo and Riley era, and “post-pandemic.” Christopher K. Morgan named the season opener the District Choreographer’s Dance Festival. This year, Dance Place and seven choreographic artists showcased not only their works but also the studio, performance, and space assets the organization manages and has access to along 8th Street NE, hard by the Metro and railroad tracks, just a short walk from Catholic University.

The afternoon began at Edgewood Arts Center, a community room used for weddings, parties, classes, and the like. Choreographer Kyoko Fujimoto, who also holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, fashioned a contemporary ballet quartet featuring point work and lifts, punctuated by the angularity of 90-degree elbows and knees — perhaps an ever-so-slight nod to Balanchine’s mid-20th-century neo-classicism. The work, “into the fields,” was meant to recall the experience of a medical MRI. That was evident in the horizontal crossings of single dancers rising and falling like pointed peaks and valleys of a heart monitor readout. It could also be heard in Caroline Shaw’s music from “Plan & Elevation” and another musical sequence from V. Andrew Stenger and Fujimoto. The stark black biker shorts and white tops provided an ascetic look for dancers Sara Bradna, Ian Edwards, Max Maisey, and Sophia Sheahan.

The audience was then led down the street to a Brookland Arts Space Loft studio for performer/choreographer Dache Green’s “Evolution(ary).” In the tight, bare studio, Green, long, lean and powerful, struts forward in chunky black heels, jean shorts, and an olive green trench coat. Viola Davis’ resonant voice is heard in her famous 2018 speech for Glamour magazine: “I’m not perfect. Sometimes I don’t feel pretty. Sometimes I don’t want to slay dragons … the dragon I’m slaying is myself …” To that, and then to a Beyonce-heavy score — “I’m That Girl,” “Church Girl,” “Thick,” “All Up in Your Mind,” peppered with other artists like Kentheman, Inayah Lamis, and Annie Lennox and the Eurhythmics — Green grabs center stage like a model on a catwalk, owning the space and moment as he poses, struts, bumps and grinds, vogues and twerks, all the while lip-syncing. It’s a public and private confessional about discovering and owning one’s personal story with power and self-love, acceptance, and being fierce.

LEFT: Jessica Denson and Emi Kawashima in ‘scenes from an elevator ascending’ choreographed by Claire Alrich; RIGHT: Robert Rubama and London Brison in ‘Paper Jungle’ choreographed by Orange Grove Dance (Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves) in collaboration with dancers. Photos by Chandler Bramstedt.

Back outside in the partly cloudy afternoon, if one didn’t look up, you’d miss ReVision Dance Company’s Amber Lucia Chabus and Chloe Conway, clad neck to ankle to fingertips in highlighter pink and highlighter green respectively, poking a jazz hand, leg, or foot out from the Dance Place Roof. Choreographer Shannon Quinn let her two dancers loose on the roof to play with each other and with the viewers two stories below. I recalled film and photos of choreographer Trisha Brown’s 1971 “Roof Piece” and loved this nameless piece d’occasion all the more for its nod to post-modern dance history, while not taking itself too seriously, including playful moments and silly mime as the duo stepped down to disappear, then pop up seconds later in another location.

Claire Alrich’s “scenes from an elevator ascending” spread out on the Arts Park, a former city easement of land Perlo developed into a multi-use space for the community to congregate between Brookland Arts Lofts and Dance Place. With a set of stitched-together curtain-like panels and flowing cape-like tunics in mauve, mustard, and cantaloupe colors designed by Alrich and Mara Menahan, the three dancers stretch their arms to work the expanse of the costume. The work feels like an organic transformation in process. I was reminded of the caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly cycle, particularly as the dancers gently left the space walking away down Kearny Street as Santiago Quintana’s score faded.

‘In Here Is Where We’ll Dwell’ choreographed and performed by Malik Burnett. Photo by Chandler Bramstedt.

“Paper Jungle” was meant to be a ten-minute experiential piece for ten people at a time to walk through the upstairs office cubicles of Dance Place. Technical delays kept groups waiting, but Orange Grove Dance, helmed by choreographic and design partners Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves, is consistently worth a wait. Entering the tightly constricted hallway, walls scattered with Post-it notes, “Paper Jungle” featured dancers Robert Rubama and London Brison joined by Reeves, who at times carried an open laptop on record. Audiences waiting in the downstairs lobby could watch — spy — on happenings upstairs on the large multi-picture video screen. Three men clad in slim black suits unfurled muscular, manic motion exploding along the cubicle corridor with bursts as legs and arms flung akimbo. The pressure cooker feeling of too much paper, too much movement, too many people, and sounds in the constrained space felt like a bad day at the office. Musicians Daniel Frankhuizen on cello and synthesizer and Jo Palmer on percussion compounded the atmosphere. “Paper Jungle” resonates with the overstimulated workloads and life loads so many carry, but, even so, with so much to see in such a short time span, it was hard to depart.

After a break the evening included two solos in the Dance Place Theater: percussive tap dancer Gerson Lanza’s “La Migra” explored his Honduran roots and emigration journey, while Malik Burnett’s “In Here Is Where We’ll Dwell” tackled his personal spiritual journey. Both works were personal testimonies to triumph over adversity. Lanza built on ancestral connections to traditional Africanist footwork in bare feet on an amplified wood tap board, pounding out syncopated bass and treble notes before donning brown leather tap boots for a soliloquy in sound. Burnett entered from the lobby hooded — a monk’s robe or a hoodie, in the half-darkness it’s both. Video clips draw on celebrated inspirational personalities from Oprah Winfrey to Amanda Gorman, Maya Angelou to Toni Morrison, while the dancer draws himself out to expansive reaches highlighting a spiritual sense of striving for redemption. The work concludes with a slow walk upstairs through the audience to a fading light.

The festival format program, which began at 4:00 p.m., ran through about 5:30 p.m. with a break before the final two works went up in the theater, finishing up shortly after 8:00 p.m. For dance adventurers and dance lovers, this was full immersion; others may not have been so satisfied.

Finally, while this District Choreographer’s Dance Festival heralds a new season, Dance Place’s programming remains truncated. Some months contain just a single run and later in the season multiple weeks are booked, with most presentations being for a single performance rather than a two-show weekend. The organization suffered multiple blows with the retirements of its founding leadership, and turnover in its replacements, along with the ongoing challenges of the pandemic and post-pandemic recovery. Six years along, Dance Place is still finding its footing. It may never be the same. We can only hope the new leadership team remains committed to building on past successes and supporting dance and dancers for generations to come.

District Choreographer’s Dance Festival played September 9 and 10, 2023, presented by Dance Place, performing at Edgewood Arts Center, Brookland Arts Space Lofts Studio, Dance Place Arts Park, Dance Place roof, offices, and Cafritz Foundation Theater, 3225 8th Street NE, Washington, DC.

FEATURING choreographers Kyoko Fujimoto, Dache Green, Claire Alrich, Shannon Quinn of ReVision Dance Company, Gerson Lanza, Malik Burnett, and Colette Krogol, and Matt Reeves of Orange Grove Dance.

For upcoming Dance Place performances and events, click here.

Previous articleHuman connections to help soothe the pain in ‘Infinite Life’ at Off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company
Next articleStage and TV star Renée Elise Goldsberry on her upcoming concert at GMU
Lisa Traiger
An arts journalist since 1985, Lisa Traiger writes frequently on the performing arts for Washington Jewish Week and other local and national publications, including Dance, Pointe, and Dance Teacher. She also edits From the Green Room, Dance/USA’s online eJournal. She was a freelance dance critic for The Washington Post Style section from 1997-2006. As arts correspondent, her pieces on the cultural and performing arts appear regularly in the Washington Jewish Week where she has reported on Jewish drum circles, Israeli folk dance, Holocaust survivors, Jewish Freedom Riders, and Jewish American artists from Ben Shahn to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim to Y Love, Anna Sokolow to Liz Lerman. Her dance writing can also be read on She has written for Washingtonian, The Forward, Moment, Dance Studio Life, Stagebill, Sondheim Review, Asian Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Atlanta Jewish Times, and Washington Review. She received two Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Arts Criticism from the American Jewish Press Association; a 2009 shared Rockower for reporting; and in 2007 first-place recognition from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. In 2003, Traiger was a New York Times Fellow in the Institute for Dance Criticism at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. She holds an M.F.A. in choreography from the University of Maryland, College Park, and has taught dance appreciation at the University of Maryland and Montgomery College, Rockville, Md. Traiger served on the Dance Critics Association Board of Directors from 1991-93, returned to the board in 2005, and served as co-president in 2006-2007. She was a member of the advisory board of the Dance Notation Bureau from 2008-2009.


  1. I find this article’s assertion that Dance Place has “struggled since 2017” painful to read. During the four and a half years I served as Dance Place’s Executive Artistic Director, an incredibly hard working staff and I accomplished much to define the organization’s new identity.

    – Attracted renowned artists from across the globe, including international artists from Israel, France, Brazil, and Cuba, to perform at Dance Place, while developing new Artist Residency programming that strengthened dance makers in the Washington D.C. dance community.
    – Turned over 8 board positions from 2017- 2021.
    – Updated the organization’s mission, vision, and values.
    – Increased funding from the city and federal government through strategic arts advocacy work, resulting in a nearly 20% increase in the organization’s annual operating budget from $1.78 million in FY17 to $2.2 million in FY20.
    – Created a more equitable and sustainable work environment by raising historically low salaries an average of 18% across 16 staff positions from FY17 to FY22, while also adding 6 staff positions (3 full-time, 3 part-time). These staff additions relieved staff stress and better-balanced organizational capacity.
    – Attracted new funding from the Doris Duke Charitable
Foundation following three years of vigilant cultivation. This funding marked a significant change in Dance Place’s profile amongst national funders.
    – Successfully negotiated Dance Place’s first property acquisition since the purchase of Dance Place’s main building in 1986. This purchase strengthened Dance Place’s financial position and eliminated the organization’s reliance on renting houses from the Founding Director Emerita, a critical step in the long-term sustainability of the organization.
    – Shepherded an organizational pandemic response that centered PEOPLE, committing to our community’s health while continuing to pay artists, staff, and teachers with no layoffs or furloughs. Our response also included Dance Place’s quick pivot to virtual programming, getting digital dance content into our community’s homes, lifting up and connecting our community members in times of isolation through meaningful town hall discussions, paying artist to create content when there were few opportunities for artists to work, getting devices and internet access into community members homes to ensure equitable access for all of our youth, and so much more. Dance Place became a model for other arts institutions nationwide during this time.
    – Strengthened Dance Place’s role in the national field with organizations including the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, The National Performance Network, the Western Arts Alliance, New England Foundation for the Arts, and so much more. This work included significant contributions to national discussions on equitable arts pay and work conditions from former Dance Place staff members Sarah Lewitus (Greenbaum) and Ben Levine through Creating New Futures.

    Dance Place’s historic leadership transition was under close scrutiny by the Washington DC arts community, press, funders, and the national performing arts field. Throughout my tenure, I maintained a positive rapport with Founding Director Emerita Carla Perlo and Director Emerita Deborah Riley, while navigating community stakeholders’ emotional attachment to these powerful arts leaders, and incrementally moving Dance Place forward. Building trust with the staff, board, audiences, students, families, and neighbors of Dance Place was delicate work. Following founding leadership was an honor and challenge.

    But let’s not rewrite history. By many standards of measure, Dance Place thrived and grew from 2017 to 2021.

    This queer, brown artist ran himself ragged during four and half years of service to this organization, the hyper local geographic neighborhood, the DC dance community, and the broader performing arts field. Dance Place’s current challenges are a shared responsibility, shared by the Board of Directors, the former Interim Executive Director, current leadership, and the entire community that calls Dance Place home.

    (Editor’s note: The author served as executive artistic director of Dance Place from September 2017 to December 31, 2021.)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here