Many in Dance World Give Backing to a Smaller Theater at Ground Zero
By ROBIN POGREBIN
Published: April 27, 2004
Many in the New York dance world are rallying behind the Joyce Theater's proposal to build a 900-seat home for dance as a cultural anchor for the World Trade Center site, favoring it over the New York City Opera's proposal to build a 2,200-seat opera house that would be used in part for dance in the off-season.
"If a 900-seat dance theater is not included in the overall plans, it will be a squandered opportunity," said Margaret C. Ayres, executive director of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, which has financed both the Joyce and City Opera. "That's the size dance house we need in this city, and we don't need another 2,200-seat house."
The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is overseeing the downtown rebuilding effort, is evaluating the proposals, along with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts. The corporation has said it will make a decision by the end of this month or early next.
Other performing arts groups vying for space at ground zero include the Signature Theater Company. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the TriBeCa Film Institute are also seeking to place some programming at the site. In addition, a museum component will be selected.
The Joyce proposal would add to the Joyce's 472-seat house in Chelsea and its 75-seat space in SoHo.
City Opera, which shares Lincoln Center's New York State Theater with the New York City Ballet and is seeking a new home, has proposed an opera house that would present the work of outside dance, theater and opera companies during the 27 weeks when it is not performing. City Opera has been in discussion with the American Dance Festival in North Carolina about programming 10 weeks of dance, for example.
"Our intention is to bring in international companies as part of the activity at that house," said Paul Kellogg, the general and artistic director of City Opera. Mr. Kellogg said the theater might also be used for Sept. 11 memorial presentations or community events.
While City Opera has been frustrated with the acoustics at the State Theater, Mr. Kellogg said that this was because the house was designed exclusively for dance and that a ground zero theater could be built to accommodate opera and dance. "Look at Covent Garden," he said, referring to the London stage that presents both. "This is not an unusual construction problem."
A recent informal survey by Dance/NYC, a service and advocacy organization for professional dancers, found that dance companies favored the Joyce proposal over City Opera's. The survey was sent by e-mail to 102 dance companies of varying size and 25 dance presenters and drew a 48 percent response rate.
"To think New York City needs or can fill another 2,200-seat theater is completely unrealistic," said Robert Yesselman, the director of Dance/NYC.
Dance professionals suggest that a new stage would hurt City Center, the 2,700-seat theater on West 55th Street that presents dance companies like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
These critics also warn of a domino effect: if City Opera left the State Theater, City Ballet would have to find a new co-tenant. If American Ballet Theater became that tenant, the Metropolitan Opera would have to find a new group to fill its theater during the off-season, and so on. In addition, in October Jazz at Lincoln Center is to open a 1,200-seat house at the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle, where it plans to present dance as well as music.
But Mr. Kellogg said international companies need backstage space, "which can never be found in New York except at the Metropolitan Opera, which is seldom available."