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Nips and Tucks - A comparison of the new Koch (nee State) Theater at Lincoln Center with other prominent dance venues around the world

by Marian Horosko
November 17, 2009
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023

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New York City Ballet
New York City Ballet (office)
New York State Theater
20 Lincoln Center
New York, NY 10023

Lincoln Center theaters are in a nip and tuck phase…but we won't know what it will achieve until all the improvements are tried by audiences. The entire area, streets clogged with moving traffic and pedestrians, requires patience and caution by the nightly crowds going to the theater.

New York City Ballet and New York City Opera will share the newly reconstructed structure as the David H. Koch Theater (pronounced like a slight cough, or coke) funded as a project with a $200M joint capital campaign by the New York City Ballet, the City Opera and City Center of Music and Drama. Koch's gift to the fund was $100M. Other contributors were 26.9M provided by the City of New York through the Department of Cultural Affairs, with support from the City Council and the Manhattan Borough President. The theater, originally named the New York State Theater, is being refurbished and modernized based on the original design of Philip Johnson Associates ( PJ was a school friend of Lincoln Kirstein), who designed the no-center-aisle house in 1964. The cost to the ballet cast awaiting the original completion of the theater was months of performing income and resulted in the loss of 12 dancers from the roster of Balanchine's early cast of professional dancers. Most were unable to pay their own rent during the refurbishing that provided no income. The increase in the size of the stage required increasing the corps with students from the school, when the performances resumed, unlike the original professional dancers for Balanchine's concert-size cast of 22 girls and 12 boys.

Although Kirstein is supposed to have liked the no-center-aisle, he never sat downstairs, but preferred sitting in the first row upstairs in the first ring.

Current enhancements to the theater include the installation in the orchestra pit of a mechanical lift. Acoustical improvements include removal of the 1999 electronic system and installation of new capabilities for high-definition images for broadcast and archival use. So much for improvements. The facade to the former State Theater remained the same for the November 5 opening by the New York City Opera.

With the exception of the Metropolitan Opera House, which still looks "grand," the removed bandages after the nip and tuck might not reveal a visual appearance to compete with the rest of major theater houses through the world. After the impressive and majestic vaudeville houses throughout the nation in the last century, with their extravagant furnishings of statues, plush curtains, and footlights gave way to the movie house, American outer and inner house decoration became functional.

Part of the excitement of going to the theater in another country, is being part of an artistic experience before the performance. The Paris Opera comes to mind with its wide lobby, magnificent staircase; the Russian Bolshoi and St. Petersburg theaters with their separate seating for the Czars; the charming 1832 theater in Havana with its carriage entrance; the theaters in the Scandinavian countries where the footlights that held candles for lighting remain as history; and the enormous, outdoor ground space where Hindu dancers reenact the traditional battle between the White and Red Monkeys under a full August moon.

The Vienna Opera House has a backstage so large, scenery and costumes arrive by truck and performers sometimes change in tents backstage to avoid spending time in elevators. Equipment arrives in Venice by canal boat. Before the building of the stately Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C, there was no sufficient space for performances by artists except at a movie house. In 1965, Rebekah Harkness Kean had a portable stage built in the White House to accommodate her Harkness Ballet.

Hopefully, the nips and tucks will be completed by the first of the year and defining characteristics will emerge.
A dancer in one of the Paris Opera Ballet's grand spaces

A dancer in one of the Paris Opera Ballet's grand spaces

Photo © & courtesy of Gérard Uféras

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