Metro Weekly

Modern Moves

Deborah Riley's Dance Project

Deborah Riley is a woman, a dancer, a lesbian.

If, therefore, she leads a modern dance company consisting exclusively of women, it only stands to reason that “lesbian” must figure prominently in the company’s artistic equation. Right?

“My work is informed by a woman’s perspective instead of a lesbian perspective, so it’s not necessarily [conveying] a romantic message,” says Riley, of her choreography for Deborah Riley Dance Projects, a company of six women she founded in 1989 at Dance Place.

“There’s an energy — a connection — that might be intimate,” Riley explains during a break from rehearsals for performances the company will give this weekend. “But that kind of intimacy exists between a lot of women, as friends, as family members — and romantically, too. If you want to read that perspective, it’s available, but it’s not the main point.”

Riley points out that dance is a profession that generally involves a higher number of women, and that a lot of companies work only with women out of necessity. “For me,” she says, “it was a choice rather than a default situation.”

The decision to launch Deborah Riley Dance Projects came two years after Riley, 53, moved to Washington to be with her partner, Mary Beth, a social worker whom Riley met during one of her frequent artistic excursions at Dance Place while she was still New York-based. At that point in 1987, she became an artist-in-residence at Dance Place, filling a variety of teaching and administrative roles that led to her current position as Associate Director.

Highlighting this weekend’s program is the premiere of Riley’s “Perfectly Unknown,” featuring a Riley solo followed by a quartet, with a thematic emphasis on life transitions and the process of going from the known to the unknown.

“It’s definitely a female perspective,” says Riley. “But it’s not a harsh perspective. It’s actually very spacious, and it’s very elegant.”

This Saturday, April 26, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m., at Dance Place, 3225 8th Street NE. Tickets are $6 to $18. Call 202-269-1600. Visit