A place to call home: Dance beyond studio and stage

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A dance company without its own space

Nederlands Dans Theater was established in 1959 by professional dancers Carel Birnie, Aart Verstegen and Benjamin Harkarvy. Along with several like-minded colleagues, they had decided to break away from the Dutch National Ballet, having found themselves at odds with the strict regime of its then artistic director, Sonia Gaskell. With no financial backing or even a rehearsal space of their own, these were lean times for the fledgling dance company.

An old church, a gymnasium and a school building were just a few of the locations where the company rehearsed during those early years. 

Even in these hardscrabble times, the mood was one of optimism. In the years that followed, the company acquired its own space in The Hague’s landmark Boterwaag building.

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De Koningstraat

When the Dutch National Ballet relocated from The Hague to Amsterdam in 1961 and NDT became The Hague’s official dance company, it was able to take over the National Ballet’s rehearsal space on Koningstraat.

‘Although the Dutch National Ballet had relocated to Amsterdam as of September 1st [1961], Gaskell continued to occupy the Koningstraat building until the following January. Supposedly she needed the space for her set designs, but the real reason was that she didn’t want to relinquish the space to us.' 1– Carel Birnie

1 Versteeg, 1987 p.41

© Sven Ulsa 

A new chapter

The Danstheater aan het Spui (currently known as the Lucent Danstheater) opened in 1987. Designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) – the global firm founded by renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas – it was the first-ever theatre built especially for dance.

Executive Director Carel Birnie commissioned OMA to design a theatre for NDT which directly adjoined the Circustheater in the seaside resort of Scheveningen – until the opportunity presented itself to build a theatre on Spui square in The Hague’s city centre.

While the new location was slightly less prominent, the space was considerably larger, which meant the design had to be completely reimagined. It was reworked to become almost twice the size, even though Birnie was adamant that the job should be completed within the same budget.

© Ben Vollebregt

A theatre of its own

In order to meet the project’s requirements, the building’s facade was clad in a rich variety of materials, with more high-end materials used in those areas that were more clearly visible from the street. At the same time, the focus shifted to the building’s interior. In taking this approach, OMA managed to evoke a sense of luxury using inexpensive materials. Koolhaas referred to the building as a ‘fata morgana’2

When the company celebrated its thirtieth anniversary two years after the opening of the new theatre, the dancers were captured in action in their new locale in a series of photographs.
Here they are pictured in the building’s cafeteria and lobby, as well as in the gym and the built-in pool.

When NDT will relocate to the new theatre on Spui square in the near future, this will be the latest in a long line of venues it has occupied throughout its rich history.

Anchor[1]2       Barbieri 1992 p.1331 

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