On one frigid evening in January, on the campus of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, I stopped in my tracks.
This vantage point, facing west across Lincoln Center's Josie Robertson Plaza, afforded me an iconic view. In front of me, across the Plaza: the tall, slender arches of the Metropolitan Opera House.To the left, I could see the David H. Koch Theater, home of New York City Ballet and New York City Opera.
In film, this plaza represented culture, class, high society and, oftentimes, snobbery. Whether we were watching Gene Wilder splash about in The Producers, Nicolas Cage wooing Cher in Moonstruck, or (most memorably for me) Ghostbusters' Bill Murray twirling in the plaza to the chagrin of passers-by, we were being told that this spot was a cultural center, an elite venue, but mostly, a place where art happens.
And it was happening. A handful of last-minute arrivals hurried to the City Ballet's performance of Peter Martin's Romeo + Juliet. A slightly older and more be-furred crowd made their way to the Met's Turandot, Franco Zeffirelli's 1987 production of Puccini's opera.
And I was among those headed to Lincoln Center Theater's (LCT) long running, multiple Tony-winning revival of Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.
Rather, I was standing still as the theatergoers marched past. Aside from the TV version of my childhood, I had passed by - and through - Lincoln Center hundreds of times, each without stopping to admire this view for more than an instant.
But today, the view was different.
Lincoln Center was in the midst of a major makeover. I was looking at only one stage of an ongoing, multi-phase renovation of the Lincoln Center campus that is changing not only the aesthetics of the site, but the way that each of the resident organizations function and interact with the community.
Following in that spirit, the redesign of the Josie Robertson Plaza and its central fountain are part of what Lincoln Center has deemed its "Promenade Project," headed by architects Diller Scofidio and Renfro. The project focuses on accessibility, expanding the stairway that leads to the Plaza, as well as reconfiguring the Columbus Avenue entrance to better integrate with the surrounding area. The Revson Fountain has been completely rebuilt, with state of the art water displays by WET Design, whose water-cascade artists are responsible for displays around the world, including several of New York's more prominent fountains, notably those at Columbus Circle, Brooklyn Museum, and The Museum of Modern Art. The new fountain, which was completed last October, is an attraction itself, drawing admirers of its choreographed streams which can reach up to 40 feet.
The Promenade Project is just one of many being undertaken across the campus. The transformation of Lincoln Center coincides with the 50th anniversary celebration of the complex, which broke ground in 1959. Festivities began at the end of last year, and continue through much of 2010.
Special events, concerts, lectures, and retrospectives by Lincoln Center and its resident organizations span the 16.3 acre campus, even while major renovations to grounds and facilities are ongoing. While celebrating its storied past, Lincoln Center is building its future. Looking at recent and upcoming offerings of some of the organizations that comprise it, one sees how this cherished institution stands to honor that past while evolving to become a more integrated part of the metropolis it calls home.
The Metropolitan Opera House, one of the campus' visual touchstones, is not undergoing major renovation. But the productions the Met has in store for the remainder of the 2010 season support this forward-looking design. Internationally acclaimed artist William Kentridge will be making his Met debut as director of the upcoming production of Shostakovich's The Nose on March 5, with Valery Gergiev as conductor. Starring in the production is another Met first-timer: baritone Paulo Szot. Already familiar to many Lincoln Center patrons for his performance in South Pacific (which earned him a Tony Award), Szot will be taking a break from that long-running revival to perform in The Nose.
Szot needn't travel far when he rejoins the cast of South Pacific on March 30. The facilities of LCT lie just north of the Opera House, and will be undergoing a major change this spring: the addition of a third performance space. Already home to the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the current home of the South Pacific revival, and the Off-Broadway Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, LCT will be giving its young LCT3 program a permanent home, directly on top of the Vivian Beaumont Theater building.
The first press release for LCT3 made two major promises: that it would serve as a venue for a new generation of artists and, by the initiative's fourth season, said venue would have a permanent form on or near the Lincoln Center campus. By announcing plans for the 99-seat Claire Tow Theater, scheduled to be completed by early 2012, LCT has made good on both promises.
In time for its 25th anniversary, LCT is taking a major leap forward. Time will tell if LCT3's programming will raise to a level of prominence in New York theater befitting its new physical stature, resting atop one of the most respected theatrical institutions in the city.
Avery Fisher Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic, has long been the subject of renovation talk. The remodeling plans, in place since 2004, will have to wait until much of the 65th Street Project is complete.
The acoustical shortcomings of the hall have been a frequent criticism, and in 2003 led the Philharmonic to consider relocating to Carnegie Hall. But under the guidance of musical director Alan Gilbert, the "Phil" is making strides in programming that reflect Lincoln Center's rejuvenation.
Other improvements at Lincoln Center include the addition of 45,000 square-feet of work and social space to the Juilliard campus, along with the new David Rubenstein Atrium. In addition to information booths and gathering spaces, the Rubenstein Atrium holds free-to-the-public performances, yet another Tom Colicchio 'wichcraft sandwich cafe, and a box office for the entire Lincoln Center campus, which, much like Broadway's TKTS booths, offers same-day discounted tickets to some Lincoln Center performances.
As they're completed, the new facilities of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts will continue to support the long-established tradition of artistic excellence.
New, previously out-of-character moves (such as the campus' hosting of Mercedez-Benz New York Fashion Week in September, 2010) reflect Lincoln Center's dedication to represent New York's evolving relationship with the arts.
I am hoping for a scene in the upcoming Ghostbusters sequel that reflects this new attitude: Bill Murray's Peter Venkman, now a respected paranormal expert, attends the opening night of an Opera based on his memoirs, Mass Hysteria, starring Renee Fleming as a giant, singing Twinkie.