The ABC’s: Architecture, Ballet and Calatrava

In June 2010 The New York City Ballet performed ‘Mirage’ and for your convenience, I propose you picture this:

the progression of limbs trained to a tee, to the composition of complex rhythms and beats.

Now fill a stage with this vision, make it structural and add colour.

Is this your card?

Image via Yellow Trace


“Dance is architecture, and architecture, if it’s good, we can say it moves. To me they are very much related.”  

– Peter Martins

It started with Peter Martins, the Ballet Master in Chief at the New York City Ballet, approaching architect Santiago Calatrava to design for their Architecture of Dance festival. Calatrava was to view their art form through fresh eyes, and often this is most effective in scenic design, as the designer is able to approach movement and space in a completely different way to those exposed to it every day. Calatrava moves from bridges to ballet in this venture, looking to nature for inspiration on how to mimic the beauty and form that is ballet. Working along the ecstatic score of Esa-Pekka Salonon’s Violin Concerto, Calatrava went spherical.


Image via Blue Vertical Studio

The tightly strung arch that occupies the stage was created to dance along with the performers, moving in conjunction with their limber bodies. It’s skeleton halves, wholes and morphs completely on stage, absorbing light and producing a range of colours to further the experience. Dancers weave through, behind and in front of it and as they make impact with the floor, the strings vibrate to their beat. This reverberation allows the audience to connect with the movement of the bodies on stage, creating a heartbeat for them to adopt. There is an almost frustrating simplicity to it – you’ll probably hear someone in the foyer afterwards, speaking obnoxiously loud, proclaiming how even they could have done it.

Point is you didn’t, did you.

This isn’t the first nor the last time architects have been asked to collaborate on the ballet stage. In fact, a year later HAAS architects and LINES ballet in San Francisco did just that. An installation was created, a moving set if you will, with which the dancers could interact with on an even more engaging level.

‘Triangle of the Squinches’ took place in 2011 and is a much more independent approach to ballet in contemporary society. This push into the present came about with HAAS architects’ use of everyday ordinary materials to create transformative spaces and surfaces with which dancers could interact. String, cardboard and macaroni noodles – the latter quite obviously a poor joke on my behalf – makes up the base structures of which the performers become part.

Furthermore, the set mimics once again what the bodies have to, the music. Sporadic elemental sounds make up the score and one almost suspects a series of wind chimes to be backstage. The dancers certainly move like one.

Perhaps that is what both these architects aimed to do, create the dream catchers for these nightmarishly stunning performances to get caught up in.


Image via HAAS architecture [4]
Image via HAAS architecture [5]





[1] Hughes, Dana Tomić. “Architecture of Dance | Set Design by Santiago Calatrava.” Yellowtrace. November 17, 2016. Accessed August 22, 2017.


3]”Janie Taylor Debuts in Millepied’s “Why Am I Not Where You Are” Etc.” Tonya Plank. Accessed August 23, 2017.

[4][5]”Collaborative ballet.” Christopher Haas | HAAS Architecture. Accessed August 23, 2017.


Reinette Roux

Reinette is a Master of Architecture student at The University of Western Australia. She enjoys doing the set and graphic design for The University Dramatic Society and has an ever so slightly concerning obsession with Instagram.

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