Calatrava Dances onto a New Stage

Last May, Santiago Calatrava unveiled his revised plans for a train station at the site of the World Trade Center in New York. It won’t be completed until 2012, if then. The $3.2 billion project is, nonetheless, still moving ahead, unlike his residential tower that was to be New York’s third-tallest building until it was canceled in 2008. One Calatrava project will be finished before then, however, and it’s for sure: He is designing five sets for the New York City Ballet’s spring season.

He will unveil his stage designs on April 29. The first will be for a new ballet choreographed by Benjamin Millepied (yes, that’s his real name) at the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts on May 22.

Calatrava sees the work as an honor. He is only the second celebrity architect commissioned by the NYC Ballet to create stage sets. The first was Philip Johnson in 1981. It may also be a sign of the times for him and other “starchitects” who find they have a lot more idle hours these days.

Calatrava is far from jobless, of course. In addition to his transportation hub for a new World Trade Center, he was awarded a project last June to draw up a master plan for a new campus of the University of South Florida Polytechnic as well as a $45 million education building to anchor the site. He’s also working, in fits and starts, on the first of three bridges to span the Trinity River in Dallas.

But his setbacks have been as big as his brand. They include the now-canceled Chicago Spire, which at 2,000 feet would have been the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and today is nothing more than a hole in the ground.

Calatrava doesn’t want to talk about his business, his spokeswomen tell me. Instead, he prefers to talk about the big picture, about how many great buildings were constructed in hard times. He says we could be in a similar spot today, if people are courageous. Meantime, if you want to check out his latest designs in the U.S., your best option is to go to the NYC Ballet.

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