Donors pitch in to give historic American Ballet Theatre company a new space

The American Ballet Theatre is one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world. Over its 77-year history, ABT dancers have performed in more than 139 cities in 50 countries. It's also the only major cultural institution to tour the United States each year.

But the company's home base, while beloved, is not exactly state of the art, reports CBS News' Alex Wagner.

"I think that the glamour of the building is that it's a very old building and there is such tradition in here," said Marcelo Gomes, one of the company's principal dancers.

"There is such history with all of these dancers that came before us so coming into the space, you kind of don't mind that things are falling apart, that the pipes are making noises as you're trying to play the piano," he continued. "You know that this place is sacred and it's blessed and you don't take it for granted."

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American Ballet Theatre dancers rehearse.

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Devon Teuscher, a soloist preparing for a lead role in Swan Lake, emphasized how long the day can be as an ABT dancer.

"A lot of times dancers come in previous to 10 a.m. to warm up and get ready for the day. Then we have an hour and a half class, which is just a basic technique class. And then rehearsals range from 12 to 7 p.m. It's generally quite grueling."

Their schedule is so packed, the dancers usually eat while rushing from one studio to the next during five minute breaks. "A lot of times you'll just bring food along for the day and eat as you're running along to the next studio," Teuscher said. 

Principal dancer Misty Copeland compares their training to that of top athletes. "We're working like professional athletes are, and most of those athletes have state-of-the-art buildings and the environment they're in is very high end. We don't get the same funding and things like that as professional athletes and teams. So it's difficult." 

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Devon Teuscher, Marcelo Gomes and Misty Copeland

CBS News

Until recently, the dancers were spending what little down time they had in a dark and dated lounge with beat up couches, folding tables and a couple of vending machines.

"There were stained futons that you wouldn't even let your college freshman sit on," said Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest. She's also a dance enthusiast, and when she got wind of the tired space she led an effort to transform it into a place where dancers can recharge comfortably and in style. 

BEFORE

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The ABT lounge was filled with old futons before it was renovated.

CBS News

"Obviously the company puts their money into other things, and we can understand that with an arts organization. But really that lounge did not befit a world-class arts organization, and I just thought it was a great opportunity for AD to do what we do best —which is beautify it."

An anonymous donor covered construction costs, and everything else — including the designer Dan Fink's time — was donated. Century Furniture filled the space with all the couches, pillows and chairs. Much of the fabric is Sunbrella to provide protection against spills. Hunter Douglas donated the window shades, while Farrow & Ball took care of the wall coverings. Crosby Street Studios offered up custom carpeting. Circa Lighting lit the lounge with pendants and lamps. Finally, LG Signature gave the dancers a TV to review their performance videos between sessions in the studio.

AFTER

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Now the lounge has updated furniture that was donated.

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"It was really done with sweat and love," Astley said. "Now I feel like ABT has a space befitting the beauty that they create."

In addition to the space being more physically comfortable, it's also psychologically rejuvenating for the dancers. "It's extremely important for us to have that time mentally and emotionally, to kind of come down and then build back up before we go into the studio again," Copeland said.

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ABT dancers see the new lounge for the first time.

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And the timing couldn't be better. ABT is rehearsing for its high season — an 8-week run at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.

"We're doing a new ballet every week, so we're rehearsing during the day for the ballet that's coming up the following week and we're performing something different at night. So it can get a little bit stressful and a little bit difficult, but it's really rewarding," Teuscher explained. 

"It's like our marathon," Gomes agreed. "We go from classical to contemporary in one week so it's very interesting for us, but difficult."

"We love it," Copeland said. "It would be really difficult to this job and for as long we have if we didn't love it."