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Communal space lets dancers fall into step

Under one roof, four companies can hone their art and a sense of community.

January 29, 2007|Susan Josephs | Special to The Times

In her brand-new communal office at the Diavolo Lab Space, choreographer Holly Johnston loves to meet and chat with dancers who have come here to work -- not with her but with other choreographers. "This kind of interaction and camaraderie where you get to talk to other dancers on breaks between classes or rehearsals happens all the time in places like New York," she says. "But it hasn't really happened in L.A. A lot of us feel like we rarely see each other."

The Diavolo Lab Space offers high hopes about "a new vibrancy in the L.A. contemporary dance community," says the 32-year-old Johnston. "A lot of us have been dreaming about having a home like this for a long time."

The brainchild of Jeremy Jacobs, general manager of the Diavolo dance company, the Lab, as it's called, aspires to become what has long eluded Los Angeles: a center specifically for contemporary dance that houses multiple companies and classes under one roof.

Barely 2 months old and formerly the office of a computer company, Lab Space now consists of two dance studios, offices for the Diavolo administrative staff and communal office space for four dance companies. The companies -- Johnston's Ledges and Bones Dance Project, Method Contemporary Dance, the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company and Brockus Project Dance Company -- have already started to teach weekly classes, invite guest artists to hold workshops and rehearse for upcoming performances.

"I love that our desks are right next to each other," says Kate Hutter, the 24-year-old artistic director of the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company. "To be part of a collective like this was something I couldn't pass up."

Located next door to Diavolo's headquarters in the Brewery Art Colony, the Lab is "the answer to multiple problems," says Jacobs, who took "immediate action" upon glimpsing the "For Lease" sign on 618-B Moulton Ave. at the beginning of November. "That I have my own office now is the tip of the iceberg."

Jacobs, who first joined Diavolo as a performer in 1994, had been working in sub-optimal conditions. The Diavolo building next door, a 6,300-square-foot former warehouse, is better suited for large-scale movement and storing the company's props than for administrative tasks. But in acquiring the new space, Jacobs also saw the possibility of creating a wider "infrastructure" for the greater L.A. contemporary dance community.

"L.A. will always have its commercial dance studios," he says of centers such as the Edge and Millennium that specialize in the jazz and hip-hop of music videos and TV commercials. "But that's not my world nor is it the world of most contemporary dancers I know."

The Lab "doesn't just support the creation of dance but everything that surrounds it, from having classes to being able to feed off the energy of 30 or 40 dancers in the same space," says Bradley Michaud, the 29-year-old artistic director of Method Contemporary Dance who is known for extreme, hyper-physical movement. (In his classes, wearing kneepads is a requirement.) "As far as I know, there hasn't been anything like this in L.A."

In exchange for a flat monthly rent, Jacobs offered the dance companies such perks as free utilities and office supplies, 24-hour access and use of the main Diavolo space for performances four weekends per year. All four companies have already scheduled their shows for the upcoming year. "Part of the selling point is that the companies can also teach their classes here and use the money they make to help pay the rent," he says.

The notion of multiple, ongoing and even concurrent contemporary dance classes under one roof could be a significant plus for dancers like Marissa Labog, 30, who has worked in L.A. both as a contemporary and commercial dancer for more than 10 years. "Most of my contemporary training has come from working with companies," she says. "There hasn't been a whole lot offered in the way of classes. Plus, you can't just ricochet back and forth from studio to studio in L.A. like you can in New York. Geography is really a huge deal here."

Kindra Windish, for example, a 31-year-old dancer, lives in West L.A. and frequents the Venice-based Katnap Dance Center, where modern-dance teachers Maria Gillespie and Debra Christie hold weekly classes.

When the Lab opened, she started taking Michaud's Saturday class, but to do that drive during rush hour "must be terrible," she says. "If there was a subway going from the Westside to downtown, I'd probably be there all the time."

In the quest to further her training, Labog had started a master-class series at Focus Fish, a Hollywood fitness center that recently closed its studios on Santa Monica Boulevard. "It was hard to keep it up because I could only offer it one day a week and everyone wanted something different," she says. "I think it's great that the Lab is trying to create multiple classes."

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