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Twenty years ago the torpor of the oil bust held fast in Lafayette. Residents were fleeing the region in search of opportunity. The Lafayette Municipal Auditorium was shuttered for renovations, and the Fine Arts Foundation, a performing arts presenter, folded its tent in bankruptcy. It was dire straits for performing arts fans, but also an opportunity to fill a vacuum. When the old Muni reopened as the Heymann Performing Arts Center, the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana was poised to fill the void, and to fill the stage with a wide world’s variety — classical, jazz and popular music and dance; musicals; orchestras, chamber groups and soloists; Euro circus and Asian acrobats. Lafayette’s cultural life got a booster shot that continues to help maintain our immunity to stupidity.

“Our favorite moments will always be the times when people in our community learn more about the world, about literature, about other cultures or about themselves because they attended a show,” says PASA Executive Director Jackie Lyle. “Stage lights are for artists. We’re here to make the lives of those we serve livelier and better.”

Lyle has presided over PASA from jump, helping — along with a board of directors and a small but committed staff — to build the fledgling non-profit into an Acadiana brand. In addition to its annual performance series, PASA reaches out to the community through daytime performances for students, PASA Plus (performances for senior citizens), Play it Again (a recycled instrument drive for schools), a scholarship fund for aspiring artists, and PASA in the Park, an outdoor performance series. “PASA’s founders never envisioned the array of activities that make up the organization’s portfolio today,” Lyle says, adding that those satellite activities “evolved from a combination of need, circumstance and opportunity.”

PASA in the Park grew out of need: The Heymann Center was closed in October 2005 due to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but the Aquila Theatre’s production of Hamlet was already booked and needed a venue. PASA moved the Shakespeare performance to Parc International — an ideal remedy for the circumstances. “Didn’t we all need something else besides 24-hour news, anyway?” Lyle observes.

Over the years PASA has also commissioned new works: David Parsons’s Swing Shift (2003) and Elisa Monte’s Feu Follet (1995) and Zydeco Zare! (2008). Those modern dance pieces are still being performed worldwide, born of the financial underwriting of a Lafayette non-profit. That’s pretty cool.

PASA celebrates its 20th anniversary tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 25, with a performance by one of the most dynamic, original, ground-breaking and uniquely American dance companies for nearly a half century. “Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater embodies the history, diversity, excellence and beauty of our nation and of PASA,” says Lyle.

ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER

Lyle Loves It

An executive director’s short list of PASA highlights

“The performance by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman and the late pianist Samuel Sanders and Tony Bennett’s concert were big hits. The performances of La Traviata and La Boheme by the Stanislavski Opera were our most solid and most inventive opera offerings. The 1990 recital by soprano Dawn Upshaw, one of opera’s most popular names today, was a beautiful night of singing, just after she had won her first Grammy award. Although composer Philip Glass’s solo recital was lightly attended, that selection certainly demonstrated PASA’s commitment to local access: a recital by Philip Glass is an unusual event anywhere, but Glass fans here were able to hear him perform his own music within a short drive from their homes.” — Jackie Lyle

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