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Happy 25th Anniversary, Joyce Theater Foundation! Thou Too Sail on, Oh Ship of Dance

By Francine L. Trevens
ART TIMES October, 2007

The Joyce Theater Marquee Photo: Christopher Little

An actress friend of mine, who accompanied me to see a show at Manhattan’s Joyce Theatre on Eighth Avenue this summer, remarked the theatre reminded her of a cruise ship. With her image in mind, I looked around at the silvery railings of the balcony area that gracefully curved around towards the stage, the colorful carpeting, the tiered cushy seats and thought, yes, a very elegant little cruise ship.

Even the lobby, with its graceful staircase to a lower “deck” where the dancers’ dressing rooms, audience lounge and lavatory facilities lodged, had echoes of an art deco cruise ship as one stood above at the railing peering down.   It also has a large video screen depicting the work of upcoming dance companies – a tantalizing view as you await being seated or is buying your tickets.


All facilities are immaculately clean and inviting. The staff of the theatre is also inviting -- smiling, relaxed and friendly, on this and other occasions.  In fact, after the performance, eager to connect with one of the dancers, I forgot my jacket, and never thought of it again until the next morning.  I called the theatre’s lost and found.  A cheerful voice assured me my jacket was there and she was taking good care of it.  She wondered when I would be able to pick it up.  We made rather complicated arrangements for its retrieval, and she was kind and patient throughout.


Days later, when I stopped by the theatre to see my pal, another young woman who was to usher that evening, chatted with me.  Weeks later, when I was in line to pick up tickets for a performance, a visiting couple was very confused about seating arrangements and took an inordinate amount of time deciding which tickets to purchase.  A line of other eager ticket buyers formed and grew.  Throughout, the person in the ticket booth was patient and helpful.  If this were a cruise ship, I’d gladly sign on for a trip!


But it’s a very special theatre, a just under 500 seat theatre of plush adjustable chairs and the “trips” are world wide – since the facility and its sister Joyce Theater downtown, book dance companies from around the world. 


The theatre was named in honor of the daughter of LuEsther T. Mertz, whose vision and generosity made it imaginable and ultimately possible to convert the old Elgin Theatre to the bright and beautiful Joyce.  It is one of the few dance facilities in the country built by dancers for dancers.

It is also far more than a theatre, it is a foundation dedicated to serving the dance community. This summer marked the quarter century since the Joyce Foundation turned a dilapidated, dingy old movie house into the splendid dance performance facility now known as the Joyce.  In honor of its birthday, the Joyce Foundation announced three programs to thank the dance community:  A commissioning initiative, a special $25 ticket price for all Sunday night performances during the 2007-2008 season, and a series of national events.


Twenty-five dance companies will be awarded $25,000 each to help fund the creation of new work.  Stephen Weinroth, Chair of the Joyce Theater Foundation board of Trustees said “We chose companies with the deepest histories at the Joyce Theater that have yet to receive commissioning funds; companies we want to foster deeper relationships with and companies doing great work that we want to encourage.”


The area in which the Chelsea Theater nestles was as dilapidated and neglected as the theater itself twenty five years ago.  But as many residents of the Village moved u into Chelsea, it changed.  While the Salvation Army Thrift Shop remains nearby, other second hand stores and dumpy tiny fast food places along with small old grocery stores disappeared, replaced by upscale restaurants and clothing shops.  Going to the Joyce is a pleasant adventure, even as you approach or stroll about later.  And the elegance of the theatre and surroundings has had a marvelous trickle down effect.  Most people “dress for the occasion” when going to the Joyce.  There is a festive feel in the audience, not unlike a cruise ship launching!


The theatre sports a full range of dance friendly facilities and equipment.


The roughly 60 x 42 foot stage, while it lacks fly space, boasts a basket weave sprung wood floor, crossover accessibility, has over 500 lighting instruments, a sound system that can play CD, reel to reel or DAT equipment.  Video facilities are also available. While it has no orchestra pit as such, segments of the front rows are easily removed to accommodate a live orchestra.


There is nothing a dance company could want that the Joyce does not offer, from 5 dressing rooms able to accommodate up to 40 dancers, bathrooms and showers, a green room, and a warm-up studio. The foundation provides professional programs to companies booked there, offers a marketing program and can supply technicians for sound, costume, scenery etc.


There’s nothing a dance aficionado can want, either.  You name a dance company, and undoubtedly it has been or is booked to perform in Manhattan at the Joyce Theatre. It presents not-for-profit dance companies and has a subsidized rental program.  It has presented over 280 companies in its 25-year existence, and commissioned 80 new dances in the last decade.


Upcoming this Fall are such diverse entertainments as The Paul Taylor Dance Company, Martha Graham Dance Company, Pamina Devi, Ballet Du Grand Theatre de Geneve, James Sewell Ballet, Revolution (which is billed as tap dancing for the 21st century), Elisa Monte Dance and Garth Fagan Dance, among others.

Linda Shelton, Executive Director of the Joyce Theater thinks what most distinguishes the Joyce is
. that “it is the most broad based, extensive programming, longest running annual season of dance presented in the country, if not the world.”

Asked what is the Joyce’s greatest contribution to dance she replied, “Highly subsidized programs to perform and rehearse at both The Joyce Theater and Joyce Soho, as well as many services (commissioning new work, residency programs, free advice seminars and in depth education programs) offered to the field.”      


The Joyce Theater Foundation offers a variety of educational opportunities.   It works with metropolitan area K-12th grade schools to create programs that reach over 2,000 students and teachers.  It offers family matinees for 6-14 year olds, and has Dance Talks and other opportunities as part of their adult education program.


Miss Shelton has achieved her aim of growing the services offered by The Joyce to dancers and dance companies while maintaining a well run, and managed, nonprofit organization.”

Her ambitions for the future are as extraordinary as were the accomplishments of the past. She sees the foundation in 25 years as  Hopefully with another theater for dance so that some of the companies that currently perform at The Joyce can grow into a larger venue and open up space for the next generation, and at the same time, making room to offer more programming from around the world with an easier time obtaining visas for the performers.  I would also like to see the audience for dance grow to the point where those who don’t plan early are turned away because there are no tickets left. It was a good many years of work and dedication that culminated in this gem of a dance space and this incomparable organization with a list of benefactors, which is as impressive as its list of dancers.  Who can desire a better way to see the world of dance than one the Joyce Theater Foundation presents now and dreams of attaining in the future.  Long may they sail on!