A Paddock for Thoroughbreds


In Dutch, “kaatsbaan” means “playing field,” an apt name for the $12 million dance oasis currently under construction in Tivoli, two hours north of Manhattan. Founded by American Ballet Theatre veterans Kevin McKenzie, Martine van Hamel, Bentley Roton, and Gregory Cary, the 153-acre dance center merges audience outreach, historic preservation, and creation and documentation initiatives.

“We want a retreat for dancers. They bust their asses their entire lives and never really get ahead financially,” says Cary, a Juilliard grad who skied on Colorado’s team before he became a professional dancer. “We are also putting $3 to $4 million into the community; almost all the labor is local. Pataki gave us $200,000. We are generating economic development: It’s clean industry, and it’s permanent. The bigger we grow, the more development we’ll generate.”

In early spring, Kaatsbaan was full of mud and potential. By September, the 40 construction workers will give way to dancers, coaches, and balletomanes. Projects will go on year-round, says Cary. The theater building (now holding bales of hay and a massive bulldozer) measures 210 by 105 feet and will seat 500 for performances.

Cary and Roton (who at 14 moved to New York from Birmingham, Alabama, alone, to dance) relocated upstate in 1980. There were “less opportunities, and fewer new works—I think AIDS had a lot to do with it—took the energy out of dance,” says Cary.

They bought the property—a former thoroughbred horse farm with Stanford White buildings—with McKenzie and van Hamel for $1.15 million. The Millbrook-based Dyson Foundation guaranteed a $3.9 million construction bond, boosting the $5.5 million capital campaign for Phase 1 (completion date: July 15). One 2500-square-foot studio boasts a viewing hall for visitors; another (4800 square feet) will have theatrical lighting, video and sound capabilities, and seating for 130 on bleachers. For both studios the gurus at Harlequin, specialists in dance flooring, have designed customized, state-of-the-art sprung floors.

Costumes and sets will be constructed at Kaatsbaan’s Oliver Smith Institute of Scenic Design, scheduled for Phase 3. “We can reduce companies’ costs by 20 or 22 percent,” says Cary. United Scenic Artists workers will oversee labor, making products transferable to union houses. Roton likens this amalgamation of artists—the impresario, the designer, the composer—to the rehearsal scene in The Red Shoes. “They’re all there making this ballet. When it’s happening simultaneously, the energy level gets higher.”

Request a schedule from Kaatsbaan, P.O. Box 482, Tivoli, NY 12583; 914-757-5106

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2000

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