Dance Matters: Extreme Home Makeover

When they bought an old hardware store in an industrial section of San Francisco’s Mission district in 1979, the nomads from Ohio didn’t think that they would end up with 36,000 square feet and 20 million dollars’ worth of debt-free real estate. They acquired the space because they were tired of creating studio environments only to be evicted. So ODC/Dance, then still known as the Oberlin Dance Collective and later, as ODC/SF, became one of the first American modern dance companies to buy a home. Thirty years later, shrouded in black veils, the remnants of the theater, small studios, and office space await a September 30 resurrection, to be celebrated with a gala and the premiere of ODC founder Brenda Way’s new piece.


The new ODC Theater now completes ODC’s two-campus facility (ODC Dance Commons opened in 2005). It includes three studios, staff offices, an expanded visual arts gallery, a media lab, space for additional programs, and—realizing a long-time dream of Way’s—an all-day, full-service café.

By pushing the new construction up instead of out, architects Mark Cavagnero Associates were able to build 13,000 square feet on land that ODC already owned. “We might have ‘fixed’ the old place,” Way explained, “but we wanted to stay current and allow a new generation of artists to realize their vision.” Still, the decision to “do it right” meant raising another nine million dollars, including money for a modest endowment.


On a hard-hat tour last June, theater director Rob Bailis clearly looked forward to having artists working in the reconfigured facility. “The old space had an 11-foot ceiling,” he said. By adding another story, “dancers now actually can do lifts.” The theater also has state-of-the-art sound and lighting, including a tech booth that can be reached by stairs instead of a ladder. Still, much looks familiar. The skylights, which make matinees so pleasant, return, as do the 170-seat (now steeply raked) capacity. Also incorporated into the design is the old 1940s-style curved entrance. The new façade, however, sports a decidedly 21st-century look: a three-story “green wall,” made up of living vegetation.


While the renovated space allows ODC Theater to undertake new projects (such as a media lab and dance archive), Bailis plans to expand and strengthen its original mission: to present local and touring groups, award residency and mentorship programs, and offer self-producing opportunities. Bailis points out that it always has had an identity separate from the dance company (ODC/Dance does not perform its home season there). In addition to presenting Bay Area dance, ODC Theater has hosted the debuts of national artists such as Ronald K. Brown, Nora Chipaumire, Eiko & Koma, and Bill T. Jones. The venue is also a member of the SCUBA touring network that pairs companies in SF, Seattle, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia to form national tours.


For Bailis, ODC Theater was always intended to serve dance as a presenter of experimental work. “The theater,” he says, “is a house of risk.” The rewards belong to a new generation of artists who will create at ODC.


Rendering of the new ODC Theater building. Photo Courtesy ODC.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021