SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hundreds of New York City Ballet dancers have made their way across the amphitheater floor at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center since the ballet’s residency began more than five decades ago.
While the dancers have changed, the floor has seen few updates in its lifetime. The most recent was roughly 35 years ago when the NYCB began using a portable sprung floor for its performances. At this point, the floor (called the D’Anser) is looking worse for the wear.
Now SPAC and the NYCB have come together to design a new floor, and SPAC has launched a GoFundMe campaign to complete the project.
“The D’Anser is over 35 years old. It danced a good life,” said Marguerite Mehler, the NYCB’s director of production. “It has been repaired and modified over the years, but it is past its life for the safety of the dancers.”
While the audience might not take much notice of the stage floor, it’s what can make or break a dancer. To prevent injury and to soften the noise from their movements, ballerinas need a floor that has a bit of bounce and flexibility.
Depending on the performance, the floor might also need to hold thousands of pounds of scenery.
“A floor must be resilient for the dancers but must also be strong enough to handle the weight of the scenery. This makes for a tricky balance between making the dancers happy and being safe for the stage. The dancers want it as soft as possible and the crew needs it strong enough so we do not risk breakage, especially during a show,” Mehler said.
SPAC’s original amphitheater floor was designed by the New York City Ballet in the mid-1960s, with much of the direction coming from George Balanchine, co-founder of the NYCB. The floor’s yellow pine basketweave structure was ideal for dancers.
However, when SPAC began expanding its programming some 35 years ago, the surface was replaced with a solid floor. At that time, the NYCB began using the portable sprung floor, the D’Anser, which was stored at SPAC and reinstalled each season.
Crew members install scenery on the dance floor during the 2019 NYCB load-in at SPAC.
Indiana Nash/Staff Writer
In 2019, when it became clear the D’Anser was no longer safe to use, SPAC and the NYCB collaborated to design a replacement, purchasing it through Harlequin Floors.
“NYCB uses a larger stage than most dance companies and we also need a lot of offstage space for movement, scenery, pianos, dancers, etc. We designed the onstage dance space and the offstage space to blend into one seamless floor made up of danceable floor area, offstage areas and transition/ramp areas,” Mehler said.
The new floor, which is specifically for the NYCB and will be used only during its residency, is made of birch plywood with density pads to add bounce to it. Dancers will be familiar with it because it’s the same design used in two of the company’s New York City studios.
At the start of 2020, SPAC planned to have the floor completed before the classical season. However, this spring the venue had to cancel the summer season due to COVID-19. That has led to significant financial losses for SPAC, which has projected a $1.3 million budget deficit this year.
According to SPAC, by the time the pandemic hit the custom dance floor was already ordered and under construction, leaving no room for returns. While NYCB is paying for a portion of the cost, SPAC owes $40,000 for its portion, which is a hefty amount considering the organization is unable to present its traditional season.
It launched the GoFundMe campaign last week during what would have been the New York City Ballet Gala.
“GoFundMe allowed for us to reach a larger audience while also giving the members of our community, who are so connected to SPAC, a sense of ownership of the dance floor,” said Elizabeth Sobol, the president and CEO of SPAC. “The platform was also a great way to engage our incredible Junior Committee and Action Council members, who typically would be planning and raising funds for our ballet gala at this time.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than $14,000 had been raised. Without a 2020 NYCB residency, there’s no rush to get the floor installed, though Sobol plans to install it in time for the next season.
“We fully expect that the floor will be completed and ready when the ballet returns to Saratoga,” Sobol said.
For information, visit spac.org.