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Philadanco moves to city's new arts center. (News).

Joan Myers Brown, founder and artistic director of Philadanco, is fond of noting that her fleet troupe of sixteen dancers sells out everywhere they go, but they have a tough time filling seats in their own hometown. The company's elite mix of ballet, modern, jazz, and African American cultural dance is a national treasure that Philadelphia takes for granted. That may change when Philadanco becomes a resident company at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, which opens December 16.

The Perelman Theater will be home to the dance company and Verizon Hall will be the new stage for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Renowned architect Rafael Vinoly designed the Kimmel, which takes up an entire city block, houses three theaters, and is equipped with state-of-the-art acoustics and a turntable stage for dance. A dazzling glass dome covers the complex, making it the jewel in the crown of Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts.

The multimillion-dollar center has been plagued with funding delays, a construction accident that injured eight workers, and administrative turmoil. But Brown says this is all part of the process. She also sees a silver lining: "The more people talk about the Kimmel--good, bad, and the ugly--the more interest it creates."

Brown says the Perelman Theater, which won't open until January, is "visually impressive." But she has also tried to make sure it will be practical. "You never have everything you need in a multipurpose place," she says. In an effort to make sure the Perelman would be optimal, she provided the Kimmel architects with blueprints for Toronto's Premiere Dance Theatre to use as an example. "I don't know if they used any of that information, but [it] has everything a dance company needs," notes Brown.

The Perelman's January completion date means Philadanco's space won't be ready in time for the December gala. But the theater is expected to be finished in time for Philadanco's inaugural performances (January 17-19) at the center. And up until then, the company will be busy with other programs. "The night before the gala, we are finishing a sixteen-performance, two-week run of The Xmas Philes at the Annenberg Center," says Brown. That work, devised for Philadanco last year by Daniel Ezralow, is a holiday alternative to The Nutcracker that takes a joyous and sometimes sobering look at the emotions linked to holidays. (It was broadcast on PBS and will be restaged this year into an evening-length version.)

Philadanco's first dance program in the Perelman will include a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks on King's birthday. They will also premiere a new work by Milton Myers, along with repertoire works, Conversation ,for Seven Souls by Jeanne Hill Sagan and The Enemy Behind the Gates by Christopher Huggins.

"I think it's appropriate that a local company should get to do it," Brown says of her Kimmel residency. "It will give us more recognition in the city. Locally, audiences are not aware of our impact on dance. When I started thirty years ago, I didn't think we'd be around for long. Mostly, I loved having the school. The dancers who come through here are still excellent and they can go anywhere."

Philadanco has a heavy, year-round touring schedule, which took them to Korea and Poland in 2001. "My mission over the years hasn't changed much, sometimes to my detriment. I want to provide performance opportunities for predominately African American youth in a supportive environment and to nurture appreciation of dance in all communities. But funders tend to have their own agenda. Being an African American company, we're sometimes at the bottom of the totem pole," Brown says. But, these days, the troupe is doing well. "What's good for us is that none of my dancers left this year. Everybody is still here. This company is in top shape."
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Author:Whittington, Lewis
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2PA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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