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All the Right Moves : Grover Dale and his Choreographers' Resourcenter nurture the talents of those dedicated to dance

April 04, 1993|LIBBY SLATE | Libby Slate writes regularly for The Times

In a second-floor studio at the Third Street Dance Academy in West Hollywood one late afternoon, director-choreographer Grover Dale gathers a group of dancers around him. "One of our objectives today," he informs them, "is to figure out how people learn choreography." After demonstrating a dance combination, he asks half the group to follow his lead as he repeats the steps, hops and arm movements, while the others watch and provide feedback.

One of the observers then tells a woman named Allyson, "I saw you thinking, but standing a little bit apart from it--you're moving from your extremities rather than with full body movement, being careful." As it turns out, Dale discovers, Allyson is a premed student whose goal is to be an anesthesiologist, a profession where caution is crucial. He suggests that she use the dance class as a release, a place to take risks.

Alan, the group's lone man, whose performance seems guided more by impulse than technique, inspires Dale to say, "Alan is giving me options. If I were choreographing a number, I'd give him the freedom to be him."

Gaining insight into the dancer-choreographer relationship is a focus of this 90-minute weekly session, which is less a dance class than a career-enhancement workshop, designed to improve dancers' rehearsal and performance skills to satisfy the most demanding of choreographers.

The endeavor is definitely more than just a dance class for Dale: It is one aspect of a multifaceted project called the Choreographers' Resourcenter, which he founded in 1991 to expand choreographers' creative horizons and career opportunities throughout the entertainment industry.

Based at the Third Street Dance Academy, with some programs held at the Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood, the Choreographers' Resourcenter offers seminars, workshops, educational videos, an annual showcase and a directory of choreographers. The mailing list for its newsletter, published every other month, has grown to almost 1,000 choreographers, directors, agents, producers, educators and dancers from as far away as Norway.

The idea for the center first took root in 1984, when Dale moved to Los Angeles from New York, where he'd won a Tony Award for his co-direction of "Jerome Robbins' Broadway" and had played a Jet in the original Broadway cast of "West Side Story."

"I had this lust when I first came out here," he recalls. "I saw that what I wanted was what film producers had with studios--offices and a stable of writers to develop works. I wanted to apply that concept with choreographers and music.

"Choreographers by nature create every time they make up one dance. They don't just put movement together. They have to understand structure. They're involved with lighting, costuming, the whole look. There's a vision involved by the nature of what they do. So I wrote up a concept and put it away, because there wasn't a way to sell it then."

But two years ago, when Dale attended a local meeting of choreographers organized by the New York-based Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, he knew that his idea was one whose time had come.

"I saw a roomful of 60 choreographers articulating what their needs were, their talents and desires, what they were capable of doing," he relates. "I saw the isolation choreographers had placed themselves in over the past 40 to 50 years. No one had built a community of choreographers. And I thought, 'Bingo! A way to harvest my concept.' "

Center supporter Vincent Paterson, who choreographed Madonna's "Blond Ambition" tour, Michael Jackson's Super Bowl halftime show and the upcoming Broadway version of "Kiss of the Spider Woman," agrees. "We've always been kind of the adopted children of the entertainment industry," he says. "But as we're becoming stronger and more unified, we're an important (industry) force. We have to take steps and establish ourselves as principal players. So CRC is a wonderful place for us."

The enterprise's first event was a December, 1991, seminar with Debbie Allen called "Stepping into the Director's Chair," followed by a seminar with Fox and Disney executives about the state of movie musicals.

The project that cemented the center's reputation within the dance community was a two-part seminar in February last year called "Audition Power!" in which nearly 70 choreographers, dancers and agents--including Dale's wife, dancer-actress Anita Morris--exchanged ideas about the casting process. A record of the event is available on a video that includes a recommendation from Gene Kelly. He also wrote a letter of support to aid in the group's fund-raising efforts.

Asked about the video, Kelly says, "Having experienced directors and choreographers talk to the young people is very good. The amount of dancers who come to auditions is immense. The auditions are cattle calls, where they bring in a herd, and you have to pick three.

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