With a burst of music in a vacant Manhattan lot, dancers and city officials held groundbreaking ceremonies for what will be the footprint of the new Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Young dancers from the school joined the adult members of the theater Wednesday in three short performances to celebrate the building of the company's new space at 55th Street and Ninth Avenue.
"See what blessings we have from one man, from Alvin Ailey, who planted the seed? Look what the tree grew into," said Artistic Director Judith Jamison, from a temporary stage assembled under a tent in the vacant lot. "We finally have a home."
The company, which has become one of the nation's most important cultural institutions, was founded in 1958 by Ailey, a Texas-born dancer who promoted black culture through modern American dance, using choreography that fused modern, jazz and classical styles.
He was 58 when he died in 1989.
"He would just be so proud to be here today," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was a contributor to the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation before he was elected. "Everything that he stood for is being carried on, is being built on, is being expanded."
The 77,000-square-foot, $54 million building is expected to be completed in 2004, doubling the space of the company's cramped quarters on West 61st Street.
The new six-story building, with a two-story basement, will feature 12 dance studios, a 295-seat theater, dressing rooms, warm-up areas, an archive and library area, a costume shop and physical therapy facilities.
The building's transparent design, by architects Carolyn Iu and Natan Bibliowicz, will enable passers-by to see into many of the studios and share in the dance experience.
Bloomberg dipped a shiny shovel into a pot of dirt at the ceremony, which began with a troupe of dancers that paraded the seven blocks from the company's current home near Lincoln Center.
The building will be named the Joan Weill Center for Dance, in honor of Joan and Sandy Weill, who donated $15 million to the project.
Less than 10 years ago, the ailing company faced steep debt. But recent help from charitable organizations and a change in programming have led to renewed interest in the company and sold-out shows.
The city contributed $9.5 million to the project, according to Beth Olsen, a spokeswoman for the dance company.
A typical season for the 31 dancers at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater includes an international tour, a U.S. tour and a five-week home season. The Ailey School offers more than 200 classes each week.
On the Net: www.alvinailey.org
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