The College’s physical planners are currently scrambling to find a new home for student dancers before the clock runs out in June 2005 on their lease of the Rieman Center for Performing Arts from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies.
The search has been complicated by the very specific technical requirements for a safe and comfortable dance space and by the dearth of usable FAS-owned spots in the Square.
Incoming Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 says he has identified Rieman’s replacement as one of his highest priorities.
But despite the general consensus that a new space must be found, College officials and arts administrators seem to lack a sense of how to accomplish this goal.
Gross told The Crimson last month that he hoped Radcliffe would grant the College grace time if it does not fully replace Rieman in time.
Though Radcliffe Institute Dean Drew Gilpin Faust declines to comment on whether Radcliffe would grant an extension on the dancers’ lease, she says she was amused that Gross had tried to negotiate with her through the pages of The Crimson.
She says she teased Gross about it when she ran into him recently.
“I wish FAS would come back to us and say this is what they want,” she said. “The question has not come up. When it does, we’ll consider that in a very specific way.”
A number of buildings throughout Cambridge have been floated as possibilities in confidential memos and meetings behind closed doors.
But as of now, administrators say only one Harvard-owned building remains a likely candidate: the Quadrangle Recreational Athletic Facility (QRAC).
College administrators are also in preliminary talks with millionaire Cambridge philanthropist and Kennedy School of Government graduate Gregory C. Carr, who says he would like to offer undergraduate dancers a home in the theater complex he plans to build on a vacant parking lot at Zero Arrow St.
To arrive at a final decision, the planners—chiefly Associate Dean of Administrative Planning Leah R. McIntosh, who liases between University Hall and the Office for the Arts (OFA), and Associate Dean of Physical Resources and Planning David Zewinski—will have to deal with finding a suitable location, ensuring that the new space is not smaller than Rieman and jockeying with other constituencies over the limited spaces available.
Finding a spot near the center of campus is key, according to OFA Dance Program Director Elizabeth W. Bergmann. She says she’s wary of the safety issues in pushing a program that rehearses late at night—especially with its high proportion of female participants—to a faraway location. Also, because dance classes are often squeezed in between students’ other commitments, minimizing transportation time is a priority for Bergmann.
These factors rule out constructing a new space in Allston. OFA administrators say they have also nixed proposals to use University-owned space in Watertown.
The complicated technical standards for dance floors—like spring-board flooring and high ceilings—have also ruled a host of other buildings in and around the Square.
The Hasty Pudding building, which has awaited substantial renovations since Harvard purchased it a few years ago, was at one point termed a potential dance space. But concerns about the feasibility of getting the city approvals necessary to increase the size of the building’s footprint turned it into an unrealistic choice.
So Bergmann and OFA Director of Programs Cathleen McCormick began touring other FAS-owned facilities with McIntosh and Zewinski.
Hemenway Gymnasium, which FAS leases to the Law School, was an early promising candidate both for dancers and for the admissions office—another Radcliffe Yard tenant searching for space before its lease expires—because it is underutilized and can easily be reabsorbed by FAS.
But only the main gym was a potential space for dancers, which McCormick says would have resulted in a net loss of space compared to the Rieman complex. In addition to a large main volume used for performance—roughly the size of Hemenway’s gym floor—Rieman has nearly twice that square footage in offices, rehearsal rooms and other dance program space.
So Hemenway is no longer on the table for dance, College administrators say. They say the last they heard, the undergraduate admissions office would likely snatch up that space when it, too, is evicted from its Byerly Hall home as part of the Radcliffe Institute’s redesign.
The 29 Garden St. graduate student apartments—formerly home to the Harvard Parking Office and the Harvard University Police Department—were also proposed as a potential dance space. The building has one large room, originally a ballroom when the building was a hotel. But, like Hemenway, the room was too small and also had structural issues.
Another prospective site across the river near the athletic fields, a vacated University Operations Services warehouse at 175 North Harvard St., had too low a ceiling, and its open space was disrupted by columns.
Finally, a dramatic proposal to substantially change Hilles Library—including turning part of the building into a dance studio, while keeping ample study space for Quad residents—was floated. University planners consider Hilles a prime spot for potential renovations because its check-out rate is extremely low and its collection only occupies about half the shelf space.
But College administrators say renovations to that building, which is structurally complicated and thus not easily modified, would have been prohibitively expensive and impractical. Hilles, which has long served multiple and varied purposes, remains on the table as a future site for College growth—but not for dance anytime in the near future.
There are thus only two possible replacement dance spaces currently on the table—the QRAC and the Market Theater—neither of which is ideal.
Major problems with the QRAC include the fear of depriving Quad residents of much-needed amenities and concerns about pitting student athletes against student artists.
Bergmann says that, ideally, the creation of additional dance space would not displace other undergraduate groups.
“To give us space that other students desperately need hurts the students,” she says.
While scenarios for turning the QRAC into a joint dance-recreation facility are under consideration, any renovations to the structure would be complicated by tensions with Cambridge residents. The QRAC’s neighbors, who originally opposed its construction, might be reluctant to see additional renovations, especially since the center is largely underground and would likely be difficult to convert.
On the other corner of campus, planners are eyeing the potential theater space at the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Arrow Street. The much-anticipated building is intended to replace the original Market Theater that Carr launched at Winthrop Square in fall 2001—a space which he decided to close after just one season.
“The dance group at FAS has expressed an interest in being in our building,” Carr says. “We would love to have them…It is much too early to say whether anything will happen and what it will look like if it does.”
College and OFA administrators say Carr met with them last week, and they are negotiating to see if they might find a workable space in the proposed building, on which Carr hopes to break ground this summer.
One major concern is Carr’s proposal to rent or lease space in the same building to the ART, on whose board of directors he serves.
Because of the tensions in the professional company and undergraduates in the Loeb Drama Center, administrators from the OFA and ART say they would be concerned about getting into another such relationship. And they wonder how there would be space for both entities and Carr’s own Market Theater company, though Carr insists there is “enough room in the building.”
ART Executive Director Robert Orchard says he has told Carr to pursue the undergraduate dance needs first and then return to the ART as a secondary possibility. Orchard says he would only accept a sharing arrangement if the two groups had their “own exclusive spaces.”
With the QRAC and Market Theater possibilities under close scrutiny from planners and arts administrators, McCormick and Bergmann say they’d still like to see discussion of a larger performance space than Rieman. McCormick says FAS planners are so concerned with “maintaining the status quo” that plans to construct a new building are unlikely, especially given the current fiscal climate.
Still, other spaces may unexpectedly become available. Radcliffe Executive Dean Louise Richardson says they may move operations currently housed at the old Bunting Institute buildings on Concord Ave. to an area closer to their main operations in Radcliffe Yard. While she says that plans are very tentative, several OFA administrators say these buildings, if acquired by FAS, could possibly make an good home for theater practice and visual arts.
But for now, there remains no clear plan for relocating Harvard’s student dancers.
And with exactly two years until Rieman is transferred back to Radcliffe, the clock is ticking.
—Staff writer J. Hale Russell can be reached at email@example.com.