Friday, January 19, 2001
New York Choreographer Twyla Tharp is creating a home for her dance company in a once-dingy neighborhood that is rapidly transforming into a haven for the arts.
Tharp, whose company has been without a permanent home for 35 years, is the latest major artist to move into the budding cultural district surrounding the Brooklyn Academy of Music in Fort Greene.
The historic neighborhood was once home to jazz greats Betty Carter and Cecil Taylor, and poet Marianne Moore, and for years has claimed filmmaker Spike Lee and jazz artists Branford and Wynton Marsalis among its residents.
Abandoned buildings, vacant lots and crime marred the area in the 1980s, but a performing arts renaissance has helped it to blossom again.
And if Harvey Lichtenstein, chairman of the Brooklyn Academy of Music Development Corp. has his way, the new studio for Twyla Tharp Dance will become a beacon for much more.
"We want to let some of our provincial friends in Manhattan know that we have great artistry here," he said, comparing the recent developments in Fort Greene to improvements under way in Harlem and in Long Island City, Queens, which now has a Museum of Modern Art center.
"Dance is desperate in this city and there's a dire need for rehearsal space," said Lichtenstein, who helms a 10-year, $560 million plan to create an arts enclave of dance studios, theaters, loft housing and performance spaces in what are now mostly empty lots surrounding the BAM opera house.
"Harvey's been trying to seduce me to Brooklyn since 1969," a smiling Tharp said, as she danced a few steps in the Sunday school of the cavernous Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church.
The church, a stop on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, will be home to Twyla Tharp Dance starting in March. The Mark Morris Dance Group will open a studio nearby about the same time.
Tharp, 59, said her center will offer dance classes to the public and prepare at least one evening performance featuring neighborhood children. Rehearsals will be open to the public and tickets to performances will cost no more than $10 or $15.