The first dance companies to appear at the new Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa were asked by Calendar to rate the new facility. Their comments follow. The Joffrey Ballet, which danced James Kudelka's "Passage" and Gerald Arpino's "Light Rain" at a one-evening performance with the Master Chorale of Orange County, gave the new house generally positive marks.
Members of the New York City Ballet, however, after completing a five-day run at the Center, were more critical.
"It's a good floor, it's good for dancers," said Joffrey dancer David Palmer, who portrayed the central "Christlike" figure in "Passage."
"We've been on stage for one rehearsal and one performance, and it's enough time to judge," Palmer added.
New York City Ballet principal Heather Watts, however, called the floor "quite hard" and added that "everyone's had problems with aches and pains getting to them in their ankles, knees and lower backs. Old injuries have tended to surface."
Philip Mosbo, who directs theater operations at the Center, said "compromises had to be made in all areas" in building the floor because the stage was designed "both with ballet and music in mind.
"They tried to build up a layered floor that would provide adequate flex for a dance company while still retaining the strength it would need for an opera stage and for rolling on large orchestral shells," Mosbo said.
Mosbo said the main performing area of the stage consists of four distinct layers supported by wood columns and beams. The layers include a synthetic rubber bottom, 2-inch thick boards called "sleepers," a network of interlocking fir boards and a top of 1 1/2-inch-thick composition board, "which is the finished surface of the stage," he said.
"For a ballet company, we would always put in a linoleum--'Marley'--floor of some type, which provides the actual surface on which they dance," Mosbo said.
"And optionally, depending on the company, we would lay down their own dance floor if they have one."
City Ballet, which pioneered the concept of a traveling dance floor, brought their own for the run. Apparently, it was not enough.
Principal dancer Sean Lavery said, "It was like a trampoline on cement."
The Joffrey dancers, however, found the Center's linoleum floor adequate.
"The surface was a little different, more slippery, than we're used to," said company member Philip Jerry. "But it wasn't a problem."
The asymmetrical design of Segerstrom Hall also brought differing reactions.
Joffrey's Denise Jackson was delighted:
"I loved looking out at the house." Jackson said. "A lot of houses are just black, just flat: You see rows of red exit signs, and that's it. This has lots of diagonals. It looks like a galaxy--celestial, like stars.
"It grounds you to the front of the stage."
However, City Ballet principal Judith Fugate found the configuration "a little disorienting" and complained that the lack of footlights--the stage has only overhead and side lights--"threw everything off kilter."
"We didn't know where the end of the stage is. So we had to lay down a strip of tape with Christmas tree lights at the front."
Similarly, the vaunted Segerstrom Hall acoustics also drew differing comments:
Joffrey dancer Carole Valleskey said that the dancers could hear the Master Chorale (positioned on either side of the front of the stage) "just fine" and that "we were told not to make any noise on stage because it would be heard in the audience."
"Usually we talk to each other, but nothing that you could print."
However, City Ballet's Lavery said that the New York company dancers "could not hear the (pit) orchestra very well."
"So they put speakers at the sides of the stage for us.
"Maybe they set up the acoustics for when the orchestra is on stage," he added.
Both companies loved the backstage dressing rooms.
"They're really excellent," said Joffrey's Valleskey. "There are ample showers and sinks in the rooms."
City Ballet's Fugate agreed: "The dressing rooms are just great. There are carpets and drapes, lots of lights and lots of wardroom space."
Although the dancers can regulate the temperature in the dressing rooms--heat is important to them for maintaining flexibility--Watts noted that "there is a huge difference between here and the (cool) corridors and the stage."
In fact, finding their way to the stage proved a common problem.
"We were in the chorus dressing rooms (downstairs) tonight," Joffrey dancer Jerry said. "We kept getting lost in the corridors. You'd open one door and find another corridor. We had difficulty in finding our way to the stage."
Palmer suggested that the administrators should paint a red line on the floor "like in a hospital. You know, 'Follow the red line. . . .' "
City Ballet's Fugate, whose dressing room was on the stage level, agreed: "It's hard to get around. There are so many doors."
For all that, the Joffrey dancers reported feeling "a real excitement about the theater" because there was lots of activity going on while they rehearsed.
"It seems like one of the rare theaters we've come across--a facility designed with everything directed toward a performance," Valleskey said. "It's right up there with the best."
The City Ballet dancers agreed that on balance, "the good outweighs the bad," Fugate said.
"Every new theater has kinks," Lavery said. "They just have to be worked out."
Suggestions for change?
"We want a full-service restaurant or a cafeteria," Joffrey dancer Jerry said with a laugh.
"No, seriously. Sometimes we're in a theater all day and then have only a hour before we have to get back to put on makeup and costumes before a performance.
"Vending machines are no good because candy bars are not what dancers eat."