Mark Lamster | Essays

Ballet Schooled


The latest alterations to Lincoln Center were rolled out to the press at the end of last week. I wasn't in attendance for the official ceremonies, but I've been spending some time at the center recently so can weigh in in a somewhat informed way. Basically it's an improvement, except for the replacement of Dan Kiley's grid of trees with the bizarre arboreal moat that is the "Barclay's Capital Grove." The embedded LEDs in the new steps into the plaza look fine and I concede WET's fountain is pretty dramatic. Sinking the access road below grade is a huge plus. But I think I'm burying the lede. The photo above of the State Theater promenade was taken last week during the intermission of a performance by the NYCB.

It was a cold, rainy night and there was nobody out on the terrace, so by all rights the promenade should have been packed. In good times (or when the Nutcracker is playing), you can't even move on the promenade, it's so crowded. But as you can see here, that wasn't the case. It doesn't look empty, but it's disturbingly sparse. Crowds have been thin enough that the ballet actually reduced capacity in its recent renovation and it did so by driving broad aisles into the theater's orchestra seating. One of the wonderful quirks of the theater was that its orchestra had no aisles, which meant patrons had to climb all over each other to reach their seats. This was a pain in the ass, as Philip Johnson, its architect, knew, but it also created a wonderful sense of enclosed space and fostered a kind of community, especially among season ticket holders. So losing it was a real shame and a bad sign. It's strange to see the ballet struggling when MoMA seems to be packing them in daily — they are such similar institutions, with such shared history and ideals. It would be neat if the NYCB could stage dances in the MoMA garden once in awhile, maybe set up a ticket program to attract some of the tourists who are probably going to see Broadway crap instead of dance.

Maybe, in exchange, MoMA could borrow the ballet's great Jasper Johns, which sits behind bullet-proof glass in its lobby. Nobody looks at it. Like the commercial says: two great tastes; go great together. Meanwhile, City Opera is in dire fiscal jeopardy. Fixing up Lincoln Center is great, but if the institutions it houses can't survive, that's a problem design isn't going to solve. A couple of images after the jump.

The new steps, with LEDs in action

Rivers run through the orchestra at the NYST

Posted in: Architecture

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