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The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis  |  January 23, 2015

DanceCleveland receives grants to consider founding a national center for choreography

CLEVELAND, Ohio Two big steps by DanceCleveland have brought Northeast Ohio close to being a national wellspring for the art.

The recipient of some $210,000 in grants from two major foundations, the presenter is now actively pushing Northeast Ohio as a place to establish a national center for choreography.

Should the idea come to fruition, possibly as early as next year, the facility for developing new dance would be only the second of its kind in the country, after the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Among funders, said Pamela Young, executive director of DanceCleveland, "There's a real focus to be more involved in the creative process and support dance in the creative sense. We think there's a real need and appetite for this in the national ecosystem."

Whether she's right, and how far that appetite extends, will soon be clear.

Never one to wait around, DanceCleveland already has put the money it received approximately $140,000 from the Knight Foundation and $70,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to good use by hiring Beachwood consultant Janus Small to conduct a feasibility study. The study, conducted in partnership with FSU faculty member Jennifer Calienes, is slated to be finished this summer.

"There's a wide variety of conclusions we could reach, anywhere from [recommending] our ideal solution to this not making sense for Northeast Ohio," Small said.

In addition, as part of the study, three or possibly four choreographers will visit the region and employ the sorts of resources a dedicated center would provide to create new works. The first, Camille A. Brown, already has gotten started.

That's not all. The study also builds on a solid foundation of feedback generated in the fall of 2013, when DanceCleveland brought a panel of national dance leaders, academics and choreographers to the city to formally consider the idea.

"We had some good conversations, and there was some strong interest," noted Young. "We had some really impressive people here, and they couldn't get over the possibilities."

"We think there's a real need and appetite for this in the national ecosystem."

Young, of course, and her staff, were the first ones to spot those possibilities. Regular presenters of world premieres, they hear about and witness firsthand the pangs of labor that often accompany the development of new dance.

Beyond that, they also connected the dots, detecting the potential in the region's many colleges, universities, theaters and studios. While the feasibility study is looking far and wide, all the way from Oberlin to Youngstown, one venue in particular, the School of Dance, Theatre and Arts Administration at the University of Akron, struck Young early on as a strong candidate.

Beyond initial ideas, she explained, choreographers need three things: research facilities, a studio and time in a theater. And yet most dance-makers rarely have access to all three, let alone in one location, as they could at Akron.

"We began to realize we have all three kinds of things here," Young said. "We began to wonder if we couldn't put together a place for dance to be made."

Even at this early point in her study, Small said she has "every reason to believe" the center will materialize in some form. Should that prediction come true, Young added, both the dance communities of Northeast Ohio and the nation at large will benefit greatly.

For Cleveland, she said, the facility would serve as another feather in the city's cultural cap, a second major boost alongside this week's International Association of Blacks in Dance conference. On the national level, meanwhile, the center would stand as a bold solution to one of the dance world's chronic problems.

"If it strengthens Northeast Ohio dance, it strengthens dance for everybody," Young explained. "It has the potential to be a catapulting opportunity, to make Northeast Ohio a major focal point in the national dance scene. The stars are aligning to make a huge impact."

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