With the opening of the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts earlier this month, members of undergraduate dance and theater groups are breathing a sigh of relief that the new space will help relieve what has for several years been a chronic crunch on rehearsal and performance spaces on campus. But despite the plush new digs, dance groups can still expect a space crunch on campus.
University officials and students said that in the past the shortage of accessible studios and rehearsal halls for the numerous groups on campus created organizational challenges and tensions among student groups competing for the same few spaces.
“They kept building theaters and no rehearsal spaces,” Undergraduate Productions Supervisor Jim Brewczynski said, referring to the theaters built in the renovated residential colleges. “We had rehearsals happening in LC, in common rooms — dance had no place to go.”
And while the new facilities will not solve all the groups’ space problems, students said the addition goes a long way toward alleviating the overcrowding.
The new lofts, located above Trailblazer on Elm Street, house three rehearsal spaces: two theater rehearsal rooms the size of a residential college stage and one large dance floor on the top level. The third floor features a baby grand piano — a gift of Jonathan Edwards College Master Gary Haller — and a “marley,” a floor surface designed for tap-dance groups.
But the crown jewel of the space, Brewczynski said, is its sprung floor, designed to reduce the impact dancers’ bodies absorb from constantly pounding on the surface. That makes three on campus — only the Off-Broadway Theater and Payne Whitney Gymnasium also boast such a surface.
Impact-related injuries have plagued dance groups in the past. In January of 2007, the University closed off access to popular rehearsal spaces such as the Off-Broadway Theater and studios in Berkeley and Davenport colleges to all high-impact dance groups, including most of Yale’s undergraduate dance groups, besides tap.
The space does not only serve dancers. Theater groups — including the current independent student production of Rocky Horror Picture Show — have booked time in the lofts, and Yale College Technical Adviser Rorie Fitzsimons said he is working to install set and lighting design software on a pair of computers on the third floor. In a matter of weeks, Brewczynski will open up the Office of Undergraduate Production’s store on the top level — essentially a large walk-in closet that will stock basic equipment and supplies for undergraduate theater groups.
“This is not just a rehearsal space,” Fitzsimons said, adding that a drafting table was on the way. “It’s a complete resource space. There are four parts — conference room, theater spaces, dance spaces and a resource room.”
The lofts add needed capacity to the University’s rehearsal-space options, students interviewed said. Competing for space to dance or rehearse on campus has been stressful for groups, they said. Groups practiced in gyms, on basketball floors or in classrooms. Some were even forced to look off campus and pay to use facilities in New Haven.
Students in dance groups said the new spaces have lessened their scheduling pressure.
Bryan Agredano ’11 said his tap-dance group, Ballet Folklorico, will definitely make use of the Broadway spaces, since Payne Whitney prohibits the use of tap shoes.
Yuhan Fang ’11, the business manager of the Yale Ballroom Dance Team, said he has a hard time finding a space big enough for his large group. The creation of the Broadway spaces takes away some of his competition for large spaces like those in Payne Whitney, he said.
“Rehearsal space is very difficult to find,” he wrote in an e-mail. “There are an astounding number of student groups competing for very little space.”
Indeed, Brewczynksi said the growth in the Yale dance scene in the last six years has been unprecedented.
“The number of annual campus dance shows have jumped from about 60 to now over 120 events,” he said.
And even with the new studio, space will still be tight. Most groups are still seeking the same spaces, said James Liggins ’11, the facilities coordinator for the Alliance for Dance at Yale. That means some will inevitably wind up with “not what they want at all,” he said.
Still, Liggins called the lofts “beautiful” and emphasized how beneficial the sprung floor would be for groups like Danceworks and Rhythmic Blue, whose style is characterized by high-impact movements.
The development of the spaces, Brewczynski emphasized, is only a first step: Dancers and performers can look forward to the completion in December of basement renovations in JE — which will feature practice rooms with sprung floors.