Open spaces and bright daylight

The John Cranko School in Stuttgart was the last of Germany’s state ballet academies to remain housed in an unrenovated old building. But five years ago, construction started on new premises and the internationally renowned ballet school has now moved in, opening its doors in late September.

Bühnentechnische Rundschau

After years of looking for a suitable site in Stuttgart, the city council and government of the state of Baden Württemberg managed to agree on a hillside plot right above the state art gallery and within sight of the opera house. The proximity to Stuttgart’s arts district, just a short walk from the students’ future place of work, is a huge locational advantage. But it was not until car manufacturers Porsche, the ballet company’s sponsor, donated the astounding sum of 10 million Euros that the city and state finally resolved to stop delaying and building work could begin.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place in July 2015; the complex cost 60 million Euros in total to build and covers a surface area ten times as large as the old school. From outside, the 90-metre-long, concrete-dominated building looks rather sober. It constitutes five blocks at differing heights, 21 metres from the lowest to the highest, and spans two streets. The entrances to the school and the boarders’ accommodation are uphill on Wera Strasse and the theatre and rehearsal stage are accessed from downhill on Urbansplatz. Below the four-storey boarding school with its 40 twin rooms there are four spacious floors, each accommodating a large and a small ballet hall. A thoroughfare, consisting of a flight of steps and two lifts several metres apart, runs the length of all ten floors.

With its large areas of light grey, white and dark brown, the inside of the building seems rather minimalist at first: all exposed concrete, large windows, light synthetic resin floors, dark wooden panels and doors, and dark aluminium fittings as blinds. But where you can only see wall from the outside, the interior is mysteriously flooded with light and offers a panoramic view of the city. On every floor there are large balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows; wherever you look you catch expansive vistas of Stuttgart. Apart from one inner ballet hall, all the halls have bright daylight entering through large window-fronts or skylights.

There are four large ballet halls, covering 210m², and four smaller halls. But even these are as big as the largest hall in the old school. They are all equipped not only with Bechstein and Fazioli grand pianos but also with state-of-the-art technology: loudspeakers, monitors, cameras. The ballet school’s director, Tadeusz Matacz, calculated their size to allow “the tallest guy to do a generous round,” but so that the teachers aren’t too far away from their students. The halls are all two storeys high and have unusually high mirrors, too. In fact, the heavy mirror panels caused a few months’ delay to the entire project, as finely adjusting them to just the right millimetre proved extremely difficult and time-consuming. Now everything is perfect and there are no irritating cut-offs or distortions.

Perhaps confusingly at first, the floors with halls on all look identical: At the bottom of each long flight of steps there is a lounge area with seating, cabinets and a water dispenser. Clean drinking water is available for free throughout the building. It seems as if they really thought of everything; there are even softer floors in front of the halls for the dancers to sit on the floor (as they tend to do). Offices and staffrooms are below the large foyer at the entrance, on the left of the large staircase. A key requirement was adequate space for teachers to meet and talk to students and parents, partly to prevent critical situations such as at the Berlin ballet school. But one consequence is that little space remained for the administration staff’s and teachers’ offices, which are all extremely small.

The students’ library is already plentifully stocked; the classroom for the theory courses was slotted in between the halls. The technology was installed in spaces within the hillside; below the halls there are also the stores and utility rooms. As well as a heat storage system there is also a cool-air storage system recessed into the hillside, to provide fresh air in the halls and rooms in the summer. Despite the attention paid to energy-efficiency, running the new school will be distinctly more costly than previously, explains technical director Wilhelm Stickel, not least because of its sheer size.

In the boarding section, with its 40 relatively narrow but well-equipped twin rooms – all with internet access – signs with national flags on the doors hint at the occupants. There are two large open-plan kitchens per floor (“in case the Italians want to cook something different from the Japanese,”) and common rooms, each with space for computer use and a piano. The light and airy school canteen is upstairs behind the foyer and extends on to a huge atrium below a circular cut-out in the roof.

There are sliding metal doors between the upper and lower half of the complex, serving not only as fire protection but also separating the school from the theatre section when visitors are in the house. “It was important to me from the outset to keep the adults’ world separate from the children’s,” explains Matacz. This way, even if the ballet company is rehearsing downstairs, there are no disruptive comings and goings during schooltime. The ballet halls are divided as required and the large physiotherapy hall is accessible from both sides.

The school’s theatre, the Reid Anderson Hall, is right at the bottom. Covering 900 m², the stage is just as large as that of the opera house. “Every performance can be prepared here like a complete dress rehearsal,” says the director. Incredibly, that had never been possible before since John Cranko’s time in the opera house, as the ballet halls there were either too small or had supporting pillars in the way. The swans in “Swan Lake”, for instance, would have to swerve around them. Not having to vie with the opera house for rehearsal time on the stage makes life for the ballet company considerably easier. Here, there are also soloist and ensemble dressing rooms, a props store, the school’s costume store and a large room for make-up; students can even practice making up in different coloured lighting.

The rehearsal stage has seating for 198, all with excellent views. The seats were retrieved from the city’s recently renovated Schauspielhaus theatre, where the seating was replaced after only a few years. As only dance is rehearsed, a requisite sprung floor is permanently installed here, as in the halls.

Regular use of the school theatre is planned, including workshops, open training sessions and other presentations by the school and the ballet ensemble. Its cleverly incorporated cloakroom and refreshment areas take up a minimum of space. And the round of the canteen’s atrium is echoed from the ground floor to the small foyer on the balcony. One finishing touch is still planned: brightly coloured chairs and bean bags in the corridors to enliven the place, but surely the students from all over the world will see to that anyway.

BTR Ausgabe 5 2020
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 154
von Angela Reinhardt