Surge in Real Estate Values Threatens New York's Predominance in Theater

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By Kiley Armstrong NEW YORK - New York's predominance as the dance and theater mecca is being threatened by a surge in real estate values that is forcing artists into the streets.

Small dance studios, where future talent is trained and professionals polish their skills, are the hardest hit. Concern also is growing at off-Broadway theaters.

Evicted to make way for lucrative high-rise buildings, dancers must struggle to find space for their special needs - high ceilings, no pillars - and pay rents averaging $6,000 a month.

``We're living on borrowed time,'' said Peter Brown, a spokesman for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, whose lease in the Minskoff Building expires in 1989.

``A lot of arts organizations are going to go out of business. The daily battle for survival is going to do them in,'' predicted Kyle Renick, artistic director at the WPA, the off-off-Broadway theater which originated ``Little Shop of Horrors.''

The city is home to 249 dance companies and 18,000 to 20,000 students, according to Marian Horosko, a former member of the New York City Ballet who heads a lobby group called Dance Artists National Space Emergency. Since 1985, she said, 55 teaching or rehearsing studios have folded.

``It's a silent disappearance - people don't scream,'' Horosko said. Instead, they just leave.

``This is where national auditions are held for road companies,'' Horosko said. ``Now Stuttgart, Hamburg, they come here and raid our dancers. Seoul, Korea, is one of our major competitors. The loss will be irreparable.''

Les Schoof, general manager of the American Ballet Theater, noted that fledgling dancers at small studios sometimes rise to the theater and other major companies. However, the future crop of talented dancers could be stunted if fewer opportunities exist for studying.

The problem has generated measures in the State Legislature that would eliminate real estate taxes for the portions of buildings rented to non-profit arts groups, give tax breaks to developers who build new arts spaces, allow non-profit arts groups to pay just part of a property's market value, giving the owner a tax credit for the balance, and set up a $40 million revolving fund for non-profit arts groups' capital projects. The bills are still pending.

The first alarm of an arts crisis sounded in August 1985 with the closing of Richard Thomas' renowned New York School of Ballet, where Cynthia Gregory, Eliot Feld and Twyla Tharp perfected their craft. The building, where the late George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky created the masterwork ``Agon,'' originally housed the historic School of American Ballet. The structure now holds model apartments for a luxury condominum.

The situation has made a nomadic tribe out of Tharp's famous modern dance troupe. ``Twyla Tharp begs, borrows and rents studios on a day-to-day basis,'' said Sharon Gersten Gluckman, the company's director of development. ``Can you imagine a scientist having to use a different laboratory each day? …