As the morbidly obese performance artist struggled mightily to tug his (her?) girdle over nearly nude acres of cellulite, the crowd at the newly opened Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO sat in rapt fascination on Tuesday night.
Clearly, a new day, er, nightlife is dawning in this stroller-strewn neighborhood.
Although patrons of nearby St. Ann’s Warehouse are no stranger to avant-garde programming, Galapagos Director Robert Elmes promises that his new performing art space — which has relocated from Williamsburg because of a rent hike — is filling a critical niche for artists looking for a home.
Elmes didn’t want to call Tuesday night’s marathon of vaudeville-esque theater his “grand opening”; it was merely the first night in which the theater’s sound and light packages had been installed and christened.
But even before an official opening, visitors can see that Elmes’ new space has improved upon the smaller Billyburg venue. Like the earlier space, of course, the unique performing arts locale is part lounge, part theater and part water.
But in a radical departure from the usual, cramped theater seats, Elmes offers three rows of half-moon-shaped, red banquettes and low tables.
“We have the same occupancy as Williamsburg, but we’re twice the size,” said Elmes. “That’s a benefit of moving here.”
Each half moon sits on a round metal disc, or pod, that is suspended above the floor of water.
“The space is amazing — with the pool,” observed Williamsburg resident Tony Bruce, who had come out for Tuesday night’s show. Comparing the latest incarnation of Galapagos to the old, he observed, “It’s much more like a true performance space and less like an old mayonnaise factory.”
The seating provides elbow room and encourages discussion between audience members.
“We’re not a lounge or theater, we’re both of them,” explained manager Peter Clark. “It’s truly unique.”
And the bar is just steps away, so going for another pint of beer won’t mean missing the show.
The mezzanine offers additional seating and equally great sightlines. Eschewing the black box aesthetic or baroque ornamentation of Broadway, the space’s walls are covered in rustic wood paneling. The stage also features a sprung floor — a boon for dance troupes that Elmes hopes to attract.
“Dance is a necessary species in a cultural eco-system. It must be there to have a healthy system,” said Elmes, explaining that companies are threatened by the real-estate market that swallows a venue and vomits up condos. “Venues create opportunity and this is a conscious effort to create as much opportunity as we can for performers and for audience members to experience them.
“The danger is the artists go to other cities — like Berlin, where we were going. Our job is to keep them in New York City.”
Galapagos further reinforces its artist-friendly bent by offering lots of signage directing visitors to smoking areas.
The inaugural performance, titled “Welcome Wagon!,” was curated by independent producer Earl Dax — a collaborator of Elmes’s from his Williamsburg location, and featured the corpulent performance artist Glenn Marla, as well as musicians Ryan Tracy, Chris Woltmann and many more in a show to benefit the Web site scenedowntown.com.
Elmes proudly pointed out that his Williamsburg location hosted 400 fundraisers for a variety of causes, and the tradition continues in DUMBO, in addition to offering dance, film, theater and live music.
But the space is not limited to those shows alone. Later this month, actor Julia Grob and poet Kahlil Almustafa will host their wedding reception in that space.
“We saw it when it was rubble,” said Grob. “My mom was nervous, but we always had faith that [construction] would be done in time.” The bride-to-be plans to have her wedding party on the stage at first, then move the tables away for their performers.
“Weddings are totally a privilege to host,” said Elmes. “Weddings are the most important ceremony we have left in our society. If you screw up a performance, the artist knows the technical director is there for them and will fix it. There can be no mistakes at all for a wedding. It’s an opportunity for me to train the staff — to raise their standards to the highest level.”
According to that night’s stage manager Andy Brattain, Galapagos doesn’t have far to go to achieve perfection.
“It’s gone without a hitch so far,” said Brittain. “If this is any indication, they’ll be a success.”
Galapagos Art Space is located at 16 Main St. at Water Street in DUMBO. For schedule and information, call (718) 222-8500 or visit www.galapagosartspace.com.
©2008 Community News Group
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