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Flash News, 6-21: Dance Takes 42nd Street
Dance Finds a New Home on 42nd Street

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2000 The Dance Insider

Video Clip: 1.6MB

With the opening of the $29.6 million New 42nd Street Studios yesterday, Cora Cahan has once again altered the landscape for dance, proving again that it does not have to be a beggar at the table and in the process cementing her reputation as the most influential person the field has seen in the last quarter-century.

"It's so counter to the way this street is going," Cahan, president of the New 42nd Street, Inc. told The Dance Insider in an interview in one of six massive, spanking new, light-dappled studios at 229 W. 42nd Street as she reflected on her latest accomplishment. "Reuters is going up over there, Ernst & Young over there -- it wasn't what we were thinking about, all we wanted to do is make a place for artists," said Cahan, interviewed during an open house at the studios.

The 84,000 square foot, ten-story building, which also includes a 199-seat black box theater which will rent for $4500 to $6400 a week (including basic tech and box office services), is a natural culmination of a career which has seen Cahan play a founding role in several pillars of the infrastructure for dance and the performing arts in general. A co-founder of the Joyce Theater, the premiere theater for dance in the United States, she also helped found the studios at 890 Broadway, currently home to American Ballet Theatre and numerous dance classes as well as Eliot Feld's company, of which Cahan is the former executive director.

In 1990, Cahan became president of the New 42nd Street, a city-chartered agency which opened the re-invigorated 100-year-old, 500-seat New Victory Theater in 1995 as a kids and family theater for dance and other attractions and will eventually have re-opened seven theaters on the street.

"If anybody could get a project like this pulled off, it's Cora," Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce, told the DI. "It's her dream, it's her vision... I think it's the greatest project...and I'm really glad that there will be subsidized low-priced studios, and that dance companies in particular will be able to take advantage of it."

Tentative rates for studio rental, according to New 42nd Street spokesperson Lauren Daniluk, will range from $600 to $1900 per week for non-profit organizations, and $900 to $3,000 for for-profits, although Daniluk stressed rates are still being firmed up. The New 42nd Street has also applied for a grant from the New York State Council for the Arts which would enable it to offer an hourly rate of $10, for up to 1,000 hours, to dance companies with annual budgets of less than $1.5 million. NYSCA is considering the grant proposal this week, said Cahan. "We will get more aggressive about" raising money for that, she said. The theater is 42 feet wide and 23 feet deep; galleries which can serve as (narrow) wings extend the width to 49 feet, according to project manager Christopher Buckley. (By comparison, the Joyce's stage is 42.11 feet wide, and 35.6 feet deep.)

Studio sizes range up to 50 feet by 60 feet.

Choreographer/company directors Peter Pucci and David Parsons, who rehearsed their companies in the building's expansive studios yesterday, could hardly repress themselves from dancing in glee at the studios, which go beyond being state of the art to setting a new standard for the art.

"You've got light, sprung floors, dressing rooms and showers -- everything is very civilized, as it ought to be -- how can it not be conducive to being creative when you have all these amenities?," said Pucci, as he watched seven dancers from his company rehearse the basketball section of "Pucci Sport," which premiered two years ago at the New Victory. The basketballs seemed to have extra spring as they rebounded off the light-gray floor, and light filtered generously through the windows, outside of which one could see the New Amsterdam Theater, currently home to "The Lion King."

"There's natural light, which is beautiful," said Pucci, like most choreographers used to rehearsing in dark studios with dark floors and no air-conditioning or, often, windows. "You can look out at 42nd Street, and there are all these distractions -- there's a world out there."

For Parsons, whose troupe is the one dance company confirmed as an actual tenant in the building, the rewards go even further. "You can't even imagine how this is going to affect you as an artist over the next ten years," the black-clad choreographer said as three of his dancers stood on three others' shoulders in the humongous Jerome Robbins Studio, where light streamed in from two of the four walls, and the intersection of 42nd Street and Broadway was clearly visible.

According to Parsons executive director Frank Sonntag, the company, previously housed in tiny quarters at City Center, is paying 50% of market rate for its New 42nd Street Studio offices. "So we're doubling our square footage, and paying less for square footage...This is going to be a bee-hive of creative activity -- we're thrilled to be here."

For Parsons, whose company might be called one of the most commercially successful of dance companies, part of the thrill is that Dance has landed in the heart of what is perhaps the most visible bastion of capitalism in the world.

"I don't know how many movies are playing on this one block," he pointed out. "This (block) is about consumption, where dance is creating something that's really against capitalism -- you can't pocket it. That's what makes New York special, that non-profits (are held in high esteem)."

Eric Dunlap, a dancer for Pucci and a choreographer in his own right, was similarly awe-struck. Taking a break from hoops/dance, and smiling cheek-to-cheek, the towering performer reflected, "You know this dream you have when you're coming to dance in New York, and then you get there and it's all these ratty studios in the Lower East Side? Then you come here, and you look out on 42nd Street, and it's the dream, right out of 'Fame.' It's a great facility -- I'm amazed they put it right up here on 42nd Street, which is so commercial, for (dance), an industry that really isn't an industry. It gives a little spark of hope."

For Cora Cahan, who so many times hasn't just seen a brighter future for dance that others don't even dare dream of, but has created that future, the vision for the New 42nd Street Studios gives more than a spark of hope. The building, designed by Platt Byard Dovell Architects, with Charles Platt and Ray Dovell as lead architects, is unique, she said, in that its interior was designed to anticipate and solve problems that have long plagued dance studios. Lighting is from dimmable fluorescents, and stubs for theatrical lighting are also provided. The windows come with black-out shades. And, perhaps most important, cinder-block, lead-lined walls between the studios are designed to keep sound from leaking from one studio to the next. "Every room is a room unto itself - they're almost separate houses."

Compared to the other houses of dance she has helped build, Cahan, who couldn't resist springing on the sprung floor herself as she spoke, said, "This is pretty up there. I think the building when complete and filled with actors, musicians, and people dancing will be wonderful and will serve artists from a range of disciplines and scales."

The black box theater is available for rental beginning in September, according to New 42nd Street vice president Lisa Post.

Editor's Notes

For comparison purposes -- and not to cast aspersions on the Joyce, as the New 42nd Street's unique financial structure allows it financial flexibility other theaters can't even touch -- the 472-seat Joyce rents for $19,000 per week, which is a complete package.

The New 42nd Street Studios are also available to and offices have been rented to companies in the other performing arts; our reporter has concentrated on the dance aspect because, hey, we are The DANCE Insider.

Funding for the $29.6 million cost of the New 42nd Street Studios breaks down as follows: The organization secured $14.1 million initially, which included funding from the developers of the four office buildings at each corner of 42nd Street. Additionally, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation donated $3.5 million (the theater is named after Duke); the New York Community Trust - LuEsther T. Mertz Advised Fund $1 million; and the City of New York $4 million. $1.7 million remains to be raised.

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