Gramercy Park Block Association - Neighborhood News #446
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

New York Theatre Ballet looking for a new home


Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel 

New York Theatre Ballet founder and artistic director Diana Byer with Arlene Harrison, president of the Gramercy Park Block Association aka "Mayor of Gramercy Park"


By Maria Rocha-Buschel


The New York Theatre Ballet will be losing its longtime home in the Madison Avenue Baptist Church, but founder and artistic director Diana Byer said that the company definitely won't be folding. 


The NYTB has until September 30 to vacate its studio and office space from the building, which was recently sold and will soon be torn down, the New York Times reported earlier this month, but Byer said that they aren't expecting any changes to the season. 


"No matter what, we're continuing to do what we do," she said. 


The company, which has reparatory seasons and revivals of long-lost chamber masterpieces, is also well known for its hour-long adaptations for children. Through both the training at the school and the shows they put on, Byer wants to introduce young kids to theater and dance. 


Gramercy Park Block Association president Arlene Harrison said that the Gramercy Park community has been intertwined with the NYTB since the company moved into the neighborhood 35 years ago and especially since 1989 when Byer created Project LIFT, which travels throughout the city to teach dance to homeless and at-risk youth. 


"Project LIFT was our attraction to the organization because they give back," Harrison said. 


"We were most taken by LIFT. They embrace children in need and children at risk. The full program is very community service oriented. Meeting her was so impressive and the community was really taken by her.  For years we brought our Gramercy Park families to performances of The Nutcracker by the New York Theatre's Ballet Company, and for other years during the holidays we invited the company to perform The Nutcracker at The Players and The National Arts Club."


Byer said that she feels this connection with the neighborhood as well. "Any arts organization brings a sense of community within a community," she added. 


Because of the relationship between the company and the community, Harrison has a vested interest in making sure that Byer stays in the neighborhood. Byer said that the company needs 2,500 to 4,000 square feet of pillar-free space with 13-foot ceilings, but they're having trouble finding such a place, due to the problem that troubles small businesses throughout the city: rent.


"Because we're really small and not-for-profit in a major city, we can't afford market-rate," Byer said. "We really want to stay a part of the community but we need to find a place to live. I'm sad for us and that the beautiful building that will be torn down."


Harrison has been working with Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron BID, in an attempt to find a space in the nearby Flatiron neighborhood. Although they haven't been successful yet, Harrison is grateful for the BID's efforts so far. 


"Jennifer Brown has been terrific and very supportive in trying to find Diana a space," she said.  "It would be a tragedy for the community to lose this arts organization."


Byer, who began dancing professionally at age 18, started the company after she volunteered to help some fellow dancers choreograph a piece and the program was successful. "It turned into 35 years," she said of the company, which is celebrating the anniversary later this year.


The NYTB holds most of its performances at Florence Gould Hall on East 59th Street, so what they would be losing is their rehearsal space. One of the few performances that takes place in the church is the "Dance on a Shoestring" show, which is performed in the studio's black box theater and is part of Project LIFT.


Byer said that in addition to the ongoing NYTB programs, there were also projects she had started working on but that got cut short because the building was sold. One such project was a children's art center that she designed, which would teach dance, theater and music, but it can't happen because the company no longer has a space for it. She's hoping that, regardless of whether or not the arts center can be built, she'll be able to find a new rehearsal space for the company. 


"We're well respected and the shows have an intimate setting with a different theatrical experience, because of the intimacy," she said. "It adds texture to the art scene. For that reason the company must survive."


Anyone with information about a space that the company could use can contact Diana Byer by calling (212) 679-0401 or emailing


This article has been edited from its original version.