Lots of recipes get tested in kitchens, but the results, for better or worse, tend to be edible. Here's one you can't eat, but that appears to be a grand success anyway. The design for a dance floor cooked up in the kitchen of choreographer George Balanchine's Connecticut home a decade ago may now provide the long-sought solution to the problem of the hard, injury-inducing stage floor of the Kennedy Center Opera House.
After a multitude of experiments conducted over a number of years by Balanchine's New York City Ballet and the Kennedy Center itself, the NYC Ballet's stage manager, Ronald Bates, has come up with a design that has been recently tested and approved by dancers from his own company and from American Ballet Theatre, including the latter's director, Mikhail Baryshnikov. The reaction has been so good that the Kennedy Center has given the go-ahead for construction of a new, similarly designed, portable and removable floor, to be installed in the Opera House in time for ABT's month-long engagement starting Dec. 8.
Early this year, Balanchine had said his company would not return to Kennedy Center for the 1981-82 season and not thereafter until the floor situation had been remedied. The new floor design thus paves the way for the return of the NYC Ballet to Washington, and indeed the company is "penciled in" for the fall of '82.
The new design is based on the same "basket weave" principle Bates and Balanchine worked out for the flooring of their company's home, the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, which opened in 1964. "We used to get wood from a nearby lumberyard and make all kinds of experiments in Mr. Balanchine's kitchen," Bates said yesterday from New York. The result was the splendid, permanent floor for the State Theater stage and its rehearsal studios, as well as for the company's summer home at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
For years, the two continued to work on a portable floor for touring that would have the same virtues. The "breakthrough" came recently when Bates and an associate, Perry Silvey, were able to adapt the basket weave principle to a relatively light, sectional floor. A test model was used by the NYC Ballet in Fort Worth early last month. The results were "even better than anticipated," Bates says. Not only were the dancers pleased with the springy, soft quality of the surface, but "even the stagehands who walk across the stage all day were amazed at the difference, at how easy it was on their legs," Bates reports.
The company then took the floor to Boston's new Metropolitan Center, where it was used with notable success both by NYC Ballet and ABT.
The floor is constructed in connectable 4-by-8 foot, three-inch thick modules that can be carried from a truck by two men and laid in place without dollies or other equipment. In Fort Worth, installation took two hours and dismantling only 45 minutes. This "trial" floor will actually be employed by the Kennedy Center for its main ballet rehearsal studio; a new, larger floor for the Opera House, with some additional refinements, is now under construction. NYC Ballet will have another built for its own tours, and Bates expects that ABT and other companies will follow suit.
At the Kennedy Center, operations director Thomas Kendrick said yesterday he feels "very optimistic" about the new floor. "We can't say it's fantastic yet because it still has to be tested here," he said, "but all the indications are that it will be a great success." Kendrick estimates basic costs at $125,000 to $150,000, but notes that transportation, storage, installation and removal will cost roughly another $50,000 a year.
The original floor for the Opera House was supposed to be capable of being "tuned" to different resiliencies, but not long after the hall opened in 1971 it was discovered that there was no "give" in the adjusting screws, and complaints from dancers about the hardness of the floor -- and the consequent danger of injury -- have been chronic ever since. In recent years the Kennedy Center has reiterated its determination to improve the situation; now, with the cooperation of NYC Ballet and ABT, deliverance would appear to be at hand -- and foot.