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Washington Performing Arts’ Mars Arts DC is set to launch innovative new series Dance in DC tonight as part of its virtual programming lineup; it consists of six mini documentaries that tell the stories of local dancers (including 15-year-old Matthew Crittenden) and local businesses (ft. Ben’s Chili Bowl, Mr. Braxton Bar & Kitchen, Chaia Tacos, Nubian Hueman, Republic Restoratives Distillery and ARTECHOUSE), culminating in an on-site dance performance shot by award-winning D.C.-based director Francisco Campos-Lopez.

I was able to catch up with Washington Performance Arts Chief Operating Officer and Director of Finance C. Lorenzo “goLo” Evans III to find out more about the series, which he curated; an ultra-talented longtime dancer and choreographer, it’s clear his heart and his head are in this from every possible angle, and so it makes sense that he’s been able to help the organization pivot to high-quality virtual programming during the pandemic.

“As a programmer, I wanted to be sure that these were very special recordings. Everyone involved in our process is an artist themselves,” he said of the Dance in DC series, which takes on a different feel to a live, in-person performance, but which offers extra room for creative expression in areas like lighting, for example, and getting across exactly what the choreographer has intended to convey. “It’s really an expression, more-so than just a recording of some dancing. It’s cinematic.”

We talked about that and more, so read up on our full conversation below, and be sure to tune into the debut Dance in DC installment tonight (Monday, November 30th) at 7pm ET ft. a Crazy Legz (“The King of Beat Ya Feet”) performance at Ben’s Chili Bowl.

All virtual programming is available via Washington Performance Arts’ Home Delivery hub, as well as on Facebook.

Let’s start off with how you all have been affected by Covid; what are some of the pivots you’ve been doing, and/or what are some challenges you maybe didn’t expect?

So in March, when Covid first started to take hold and DC, Maryland and Virginia responded with restrictions, we had a gala that was scheduled right at the very same time. The first pivot that we did in one day was transition our gala from a live, in-person event to a virtual gala. That’s really the impetus behind a lot of our virtual programming decisions, because we were really early out into the virtual sticks with that virtual event.

Yeah! And do you feel that that early transitioning put you in a better position to move forward virtually, or at least test the waters?

I think so. Of course we had to cancel a large part of the second half of our season, but in taking that time we really decided to pursue the virtual space with Mars Arts DC. We’ve curated some pretty strong programs that we could release virtually, just because that’s the new world. We were already in conversation about doing a lot of things with a lot of organizations, so we just took the opportunity to take some of the funding we were doing for in-person events to the virtual space.

Absolutely. And tell me about the Dance in DC program that’s launching on Monday (November 30th).

With Dance in DC, we wanted to do a dance festival; I’m actually a dancer by training, so I was a commercial hip hop dancer for years and years, and I owned a dance company in DC which toured the world. Being a COO of an arts organization, my heart is in the arts completely. To have an opportunity to program, of course I’d jump at that; I thought it’d be a wonderful chance to connect businesses with the arts, and in doing that, I wanted to select some really strong dancers and artists, and some local businesses they could pair with to tell the story of the business owner, the dancer, and have that culminate in a performance within the business space. These are mini documentaries that will be premiering on all of our social media platforms. All of the businesses that we’ve chosen graciously accepted our invitation, and thought it was a really great idea to partner. It’s just an inspiration in these Covid times. 

How did you end up with the lineup of highlighted businesses, then? Are they favorites of yours?

There are definitely some staple businesses in DC that I love, and that the team loves in general. For example, one of our partners is ARTECHOUSE, which is an incredibly dynamic museum, and Ben’s Chili Bowl is another partner which is, of course, an historic location. Some of these businesses we’ve partnered with before, but being on location with them was something different. Also, all of the businesses we approached about participating overwhelmingly said yes.

That’s fantastic! Now, aside from the Dance In DC series, tell me a bit about some of the virtual programming you’ve got on deck that extends into 2021.

We have the Home Delivery series (free programming available on the Washington Performing Arts website), and of course we usually do in-person presentations, presenting at the area’s largest venues like the Kennedy Center, Strathmore, Sixth & I, but of course due to the Covid restrictions we took a pivot in our programming to do virtual performances. Home Delivery Plus is just a scaled-down version of what we would have ordinarily presented in person, but it’s such a beautiful array of artists and experiences for our audience that they’ll greatly enjoy. It’s very similar to the in-person experience, but it’s an opportunity to see different sides of the artists as they connect with audiences in a virtual way. It’s a really cool concept to just show the strength and the power of the arts in these crazy times.

Totally. Alright, and finally, what are some of the best ways we can support Mars Arts DC’s virtual projects and/or Washington Performing Arts in general during this time? 

I definitely think donations help, because we’ve had a complete polar shift in how we operate. Donations are always welcome, and that can be done on our website. But overall, I just love that artists are still creating and thriving. Regardless of the pandemic, I really think there’s nothing that can stop creativity. This pandemic has caused creatives to be so much more creative, and it’s caused the world to stop and appreciate and embrace a lot of creativity. To have been in-person for a lot of these recordings, I feel so honored that we are some of the only people that have seen live performances in months. To be able to see choreography and such creativity from so many artists has been such a treat, and we really hope that the audiences appreciate it as much as we’ve appreciated putting it together.

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