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Walking past History - Ballet landmarks in NYC?


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#16 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 03:17 AM

Like a room with many coats of paint on it, New York City tends to build on top of itself, and history disappears under the layers, only to be noticed by the sharp-eyed. I recall walking past a building on 30th & 8th when I was about 34, noticing the name on the front (The French Building) and suddenly realizing it was probably what was left of The French Hospital, where I was born. It was the first time I had seen or noticed it.

I'm wondering how much ballet history is hiddden in that way as well. Can anybody with a little more background share what they recall or know about certain theaters and sites relevant to ballet in NYC?

Where was the "Old Met?" Does anyone know where the school attached to it was? I think SAB was once where Richard Thomas' School was on 83rd Street, but according to Taper's biography it opened in 1933 on the fourth floor of an old building on 59th & Madison. Is the building still there?

The Four Temperaments premiered at The Central High School of Needle Trades. Where was that? Other Ballet Society premieres were at the Hunter College Playhouse. Is that the present Kaye Theater?

Balanchine's main residence when he was married to Leclercq was on 79th & Broadway (The Apthorp, I guessed from comments at her memorial) but then he moved into apartments on 67th street. I think he lived on the east side before that. Does anyone recall where?

Where were ABT's studios before they moved to 890 Broadway? Where was the school?

I wonder how much dance history in NYC I've walked by without knowing it!

#17 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 09:17 AM

Layers to history:

By the mid-80's, when I was studying in NYC, the ABT studios on 61st and Broadway mentioned were most likely the site of David Howard's studio; Robert Denvers taught there as well. Shortly thereafter the building was torn down; I believe there's a condominum there at present. David Howard moved to 211 W. 61st Street and closed his studio in about 1994 causing a diaspora for ballet dancers. There really isn't any central nexus the way that studio was when it existed; the closest thing at present would be Steps on 74th & Broadway.

Also in the building at 211 W. 61st was the Alvin Ailey studios and school. They used to be in the Minskoff Building on 45th & Broadway (MTV is now there) and are just breaking ground on a new building of their own on what was the site of television studios at 55th & 9th (right around the corner from my apartment).

Yes, Finis Jhung's studio was above the Shopwell on 77th Street. It is now a Circuit City, I think. He currently teaches at Broadway Dance Center, which occupies several floors of a building off of 57th and Broadway (right next to the Hard Rock Cafe). The Harkness Theater (I believe once called "The Cosmopolitan") was torn down to make Harkness Plaza. The theater itself is documented in a not-very-flattering biography of Rebekah Harkness called Blue Blood.

Pieces of NY dance history that are still intact? The first that comes to mind (after City Center) is the 92nd Y Theater, which is still as it was when it presented both Martha Graham and Paul Taylor (I am assuming the performed in Buttonweiser Hall - am I right??). I have only seen that stage used for music concerts now, the Y produces dance concerts at the Duke Theater - a new space on 42nd Street in a building next to the New Victory. Before that the produced at what is called Playhouse 91, and was also called The Theater of the Open Eye. Madame Darvash produced some of her school concerts there (others were produced at Martin Luther King High School directly behind Lincoln Center)

In the Taper biography of Balanchine, there is a publicity shot of the Ballet Russes in Balanchine's Danses Concertantes. I'm almost positive the photo was taken in either the fourth or fifth floor studios at City Center. When I interviewed Barbara Milberg-Fisher on Agon, she mentioned a building right next to City Center called "The Business Building" which also housed television studios. I think she mentioned it in the context of a birthday party Balanchine had when married to Tallchief, who had sprained her ankle in performance and still limped in on his arm to applause. She said the building was torn down and my guess is that's now the building to the west of it that has Burke & Burke in the lobby.

Ballet Arts still exists; it rents space not in Carnegie Hall, but at City Center (they are about a block apart).

Manhattnik, the Hotel des Artistes is on 67th Street, so that's possible.

Victoria, do you know what's currently on the old ABT site? (for anyone responding, if you know what's currently in the site mentioned, it makes recognition simpler!)

I'm still looking for any information on the High School of Needle Trades and Hunter College Playhouse (I could ask my Mom, come to think of it, she went to Hunter in the mid-50's for graduate work) Can we go back further? Does anyone know the location and name of the theater where The Black Crook was performed? The American Ballet's earliest performances in America in '34 were at the Adelphi Theater. Is that still standing, but renamed?

#18 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 12:46 PM

A quick Google Search located the Central High School of Needle Trades (there's a page with information from its 1952 Graduation exercise). It was at 225 West 24th Street at Eighth Avenue. A search in the phone book for the NYC schools shows that there is a "High School for Fashion Industries" still on that spot. Eerily enough, after 9/11, I actually called that school to attempt to use their auditorium as an emergency substitute for Pace University; it was recommended as having a theater and I never made the connection. I can tell you from looking at the auditorium at Washington Irving High School near Irving Place, theaters in NYC Public Schools are not easy places to perform! (No equipment, no wings, no depth.)

#19 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 01:02 PM

Niblos Theater, 537 Broadway: The theaters moved uptown from lower Broadway, but there is still dance in the area: Paul Taylor's company is at 552 Broadway (probably about a block to the north), the Limon Company is at 611 Broadway (on the corner of Broadway and Lafayette) - my company rehearsed there several years ago and also at 579 Broadway (Rebecca Kelly has a loft there.) Dance Space moved down below that site to 451 Broadway. Most of these sites have more to do with modern dance than ballet at present.

#20 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 04:35 PM

That's what most school auditoriums are like. Sized to hold a school assembly, they're too big for a dance audience and the stages are usually of strange dimensions and without any real equipment. But that one held the first performances of Ballet Society!

ATM - can you please tell us what you recall about what theaters and where dance took place in the city? Which of them are still around, which have moved and which have closed?

#21 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 05:25 PM

I found the Adelphi Theater!!!!

http://www.ibdb.com/venue.asp?ID=1123

Talk about walking by history, I generally walk by its site at 152 West 54th Street every night on my way home from work.

Built as the Craig Theater (I assumed named for Gordon Craig, who was married (?) to Isadora Duncan) in 1928, it was demolished in 1970. Lots of dance history, not only the performances of the American Ballet, but also those of Martha Graham including Clytemnestra and Embattled Garden.

(Note - I haven't fact-checked any of this yet.)

#22 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 06:53 PM

Do you know anything about the theater, Victoria?

#23 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 08:51 PM

I walked by what I think is the site of the Adelphi on my way home tonight. If I'm right, it's now 1325 Seventh Avenue, but the entrance is halfway down the block on 54th street - it is right next to the Hilton Hotel and across the street from the Righa Royal.

If anyone recalls anything about that space, I'd be curious! Was it a large house? small? Good to dance in? Bad? Big backstage? Cramped? Good sightlines? Anything!

I think I'm next going to pay a visit to 225 West 24th Street when I get a moment. I bet if I called the principal I could look at the auditorium.

#24 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 28 October 2002 - 01:51 PM

Estelle -

There are precious few cemeteries on the island of Manhattan; the ones left are quite old, and I think closed to new burials (but I could be wrong). Balanchine's funeral service was held at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign at 75 East 93rd Street and he was buried, I think, in Sag Harbor, about a two hour drive to the east on Long Island.

[Again - this is just off the top of my head; I haven't fact-checked any of this yet.]

#25 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 30 October 2002 - 06:04 PM

A book about the times and demolition of the old Metropolitan Opera House: Last Look at the Old Met

And here are pictures of the Old Met

#26 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 06:40 AM

Before the Broadway studios ABT was located for many years on 57th St., just west of 8th Ave.

#27 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 09:50 AM

Leigh, I don't know. Have not been by there in many years, and can't remember the exact address of the building either. Sorry :D

#28 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 06:44 PM

And ABT performed at that theatre, the 54th Street Theatre, in 1962 or '63, not sure which.

#29 Victoria Leigh

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 06:57 PM

Nope, sorry Leigh, really don't remember anything about it except that I'm pretty sure it was actually 1961 and we premiered Etudes there. I was thinking 62 at first, but that's not right 'cause it was in my first season with the co. when we played there. But it was already called the 54th St. Theatre. I think it was the fall of that year, but I guess it could have been early '62. My memory is that we did that very soon after I started with the co.

#30 Mme. Hermine

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Posted 27 October 2002 - 05:25 AM

the abt school was where that vacant lot stood for so long (61st? 60th?) and broadway. you can see it and the area just around it in 'the turning point'. we used to wait for people just outside in front of the theater across the street. there used to be a sandwich shop sort of place on the broadway side if i remember correctly (though it's been a long time). the 'turning point' scenes are also filmed inside the abt school, if you see the studios etc. and that one scene, if i remember correctly, where anne bancroft's character is being told she's only going to do one giselle (?) this season or something is on a staircase? (i have to look at this again). and i remember class at richard thomas' school and looking at the studios and seeing pictures of balanchine in those studios. then of course i always thought of the empire coffee shop next to what was the ballet shop as a sort of ballet landmark, as well as the original o'neal's where that 'iridium' now is.


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