Last year, Morton Street Dance Center found that its annual spring concert was overflowing its banks. There were simply too many children in too many groups for its co-directors to maintain order backstage.
So the Baltimore dance studio and performance company decided on an open space policy. It moved to the Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts in Columbia, which worked out so well that Morton Street will repeat the experience for this year's spring concert, which is Saturday.
"We needed to have the space where we could keep tabs on everybody," said Stephanie Powell, co-founder of the dance center with Magira Ross and Donna Jacobs. "Rouse has enough rooms and dressing rooms that we could keep all the classes organized."
Just 7 years old, the urban dance center has about 150 students who attend classes in a loft on Morton Street, an alley near Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.
The center offers instruction ranging from creative movement for preschoolers to African dance for adults, from modern and hip-hop to advanced ballet.
The concert is a showcase for all the classes and two repertory companies in which the children are grouped by dance experience -- about 125 dancers in all.
It also features the Stephanie Powell Dance Ensemble, a nine-member professional-level company of Powell's past and current students.
Many of these have come back from college to dance for their former teacher. Her students are enrolled in places as near as Catonsville Community College and as far as the University of Miami and the State University of New York at Purchase.
Two young men in Powell's company are products of Baltimore School for the Arts, where Powell also teaches.
One is Michael Snipe, a scholarship student at the Juilliard School in New York. The other, Jermaine Spivey, will graduate from the School for the Arts next week and is on his way to Juilliard.
Powell, 41, a Baltimore native, is the energy behind Morton Street. She has a degree in dance education from Goucher College and has almost completed a master of liberal arts degree at the Johns Hopkins University.
After Goucher, Powell worked where she could, teaming with Ross, who came from Denver.
"Magira and I taught in every day care center in Baltimore City," she said.
They found the loft on Morton Street after it had been abandoned by the Maryland Ballet, which was about to shut down. With Jacobs, a Washington lawyer who took dance classes with them, they took over the space.
Like every dance studio, it is without frills. The main studio has whitewashed brick walls adorned with barres, mirrors and a few posters. Helping pay the rent are four other companies that sublet the space for their classes or rehearsals: Eva Anderson Dancers from Columbia, Elifrey Caribbean School of Dance, a solo artist who creates under the title of "Experimental Movement Concepts" and a karate school. As unpretentious as it is, Morton Street turns out good dancers. Each of its students who has auditioned for Baltimore School for the Arts has been accepted.
Spivey, 18, who compels attention, is "home-grown," said Powell proudly. "He didn't dance till he came to our school." But she is just as proud of the students without professional aspirations.
The spring performance includes a ballet called "Vexing" by Jacobs for the girls of the Level 4 ballet class, all on pointe.
"It's a major thing for us to have trained all these girls to the level of pointe work," Powell said. "It's an index of the progress we've made in our school."
To show Morton Street's range, the program includes "Mandiani," a West African "challenge dance" with live drum accompaniment, choreographed by Ross; and "Tensile," for Powell's dance ensemble, to music from the film "Face/Off" by Hans Zimmer.
"We've got 18 pieces, and we've managed to get it to two hours," Powell said. "When we ran the program last Saturday and it came in on time, I thought that was a good indication I wouldn't be here all night."
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Jim Rouse Theatre for the Performing Arts, Wilde Lake High School, Columbia
Pub Date: 6/04/98