Kaatsbaan in Tivoli gives dance companies the space they need to grow

10 Hairy Legs will perform The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in two shows on Saturday, October 28: a special family performance at 11 a.m. and a 7:30 p.m. performance with additional repertory work. Tickets for the 11 a.m. performance cost $10 for adults, $5 for children; for 7:30 p.m., $30 for adults, $10 for children and student rush.

In 1990, when Gregory Cary, Kevin McKenzie, Bentley Roton and Martine van Hamel founded the Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, one of the primary goals was “to get space,” says Cary. “Dancers, as a creative movement, could get ‘out,’ so that dance could become more about movement again, as opposed to introverted artwork.” The group searched throughout the area, looking at sites on both sides of the river, before deciding on a 153-acre, Stanford White-designed Tivoli horse farm. They received a $3.9 million bond from Dutchess County, whose officials “were excited about the project and wanted it,” and got to work.

Since opening its studio and theatre, Kaatsbaan has brought a rich variety of dance companies, from groundbreaking up-and-comers to established groups, up to the property for residency periods, giving dance companies time and space to work and perform in-progress works for eager audiences. Kaatsbaan and its founders are looking for ways to expand their capabilities, provide more services to the public and pass the center on to a new generation of dancers and choreographers.


There are approximately 24 residences a year at Kaatsbaan, typically ranging from one to three weeks. “Much of the modern dance repertory has been worked-out here,” says Cary, citing the Buglisi Dance Theatre, the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company and V-Dance. An important part of this is a program called the UpStream Residencies, where three to five new companies can get on their feet, literally, practicing on Kaatsbaan’s vast floors, even given the opportunity to perform on a stage the size of the Metropolitan Opera’s. Where space in the City is limited, forcing inward movement on the dancers, Kaatsbaan allows for larger, outward-facing dance, leaps and falls and runs.

Kaatsbaan’s performance season is based around whoever is currently in residence at its facilities. “Sometimes they come in with something in the middle of the work, with something they’ve worked on in the City or elsewhere; and it’s nice when they’re at the end of the work, because they give a performance.” Other companies will work on existing pieces with new members, giving them the space to integrate into the company by learning, working and living together. “You never know what they’re going to come up with,” says Cary.

Some pieces, like Attic Projects’ On Triumph and Trauma, reflect on history in challenging and provocative ways. Others, like the 10 Hairy Legs production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with two performances on Saturday, October 28, might be more inviting for families. This results in a varied and substantial program available to the general public. “In some ways,” says Cary, “that’s what it’s all about. If you create art and no one sees it – in some ways, what’s the point?”

In addition to completed pieces, Kaatsbaan holds several Upstream Showcases each season, which highlight works in progress, often with informal talkbacks after the performance.

Kaatsbaan offers several other dance programs throughout the year for up-and-coming and beginning dancers. Extreme Ballet, held over three sessions in the summer, brings 120 13-to-18-year-olds from throughout the country to Tivoli, where they bunk together in the Dancers’ Inn and receive training in technique, pointe, repertoire and modern dance. And as part of the Academy, Kaatsbaan offers classes for local kids, teens and adults in Ballet, Creative Dance, Modern Dance and Flamenco. These help to provide a financial base for the Center, while also making its excellent facilities available to those beyond just the upper echelon of dancers.

Gregory Cary (pictured above), Kevin McKenzie, Bentley Roton and Martine van Hamel founded Kaatsbaan (Dutch for “playing field”) in 1990. (photo by Rob Rubsam)

Back when Kaatsbaan was still in its planning stages, the founders had sought assistance from various county legislatures, receiving significant support from Dutchess County as well as the office of Governor George Pataki. Cary says that they received a cold shoulder from Ulster County, which he believes to be indicative of a mindset that looks only at old-fashioned forms of development. “You had a provincial stuffiness that was standing in its own way. The area’s going to grow; and it’s a good kind of growth, a good kind of industry,” he says, underlining that change will come whether locals want it to or not.

Dance centers like Kaatsbaan have slowly been popping up in the area over the last 20 years, from Eagle’s Nest in Cairo to the recently opened Lumberyard in Catskill. Cary isn’t worried about competition, though he stresses that the number of arts centers that the Hudson Valley can support depends partially on whether local audiences take an interest in them. “If we can convince people to go out instead of staying at home and watching TV…or if we can convince people to stop looking at their phones and go see live arts,” he says, then the area can support a number of arts centers. “It would be great if governments in the area could work to move money and funds to these cultural resources,” says Cary, citing the Festival of the Voice in Phoenicia and the O+ Festival in Kingston. “We could become known for that, more than industrial development. Because dance, and the arts, is a kind of industry.”

When Kaatsbaan was first getting off the ground, “Dutchess County really helped us find a spot and gave us the kind of business support that we needed while we developed our own business skills.” This included developing a long-term business plan, only some of which has come to fruition. As it pays off the original $3.9 million bond, Kaatsbaan will move into a new phase of development. Expansion plans include doubling the housing, tripling the number of practice spaces and building a large 600-to-800-seat theater for summer programs, with construction beginning within the next couple of years. The directors also want to renovate the historic Stanford White barn and turn it into a visitors’ center.

In addition, within the next few years they want to begin applying easements to the property’s extensive former pasturelands, guaranteeing that approximately a quarter of Tivoli’s land area will remain undeveloped. They also want to make the 153-acre property more accessible to the general public, adding sculpture and trails to fulfill the center’s vision of a “cultural park.” “It’s here for the community,” stresses Cary.

As the founders age, Kaatsbaan is searching for “the next generation” to run the center “for the next 50 years.” “When you start out, you’re just thinking about the artistic side,” he says. “But as time goes on, reality checks in, and it turns into something different. It turns into something huge.”

In the wings at Kaatsbaan

The 10 Hairy Legs’ performance of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will have two shows on Saturday, October 28: a special family performance at 11 a.m. and a 7:30 p.m. performance with additional repertory work. Tickets for the 11 a.m. performance cost $10 for adults, $5 for children; for 7:30 p.m., $30 for adults, $10 for children and student rush.

For the November 11 Kaatsbaan gala, the Graham Company will be donating a performance of a scene from Cave of the Heart, performed by Blakely White MacGuire, and there will also be performances by the New York Theatre Ballet, the ABT Studio Company and dancers from the American Ballet Theatre. The performances were curated to show the range of styles that are nurtured at Kaatsbaan, from modern to ballet to contemporary and flamenco. The Gala begins at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $150 per person, with additional sponsorship options available from $1,000. Tickets can be purchased at https://kaatsbaan.yapsody.com or over the phone at (845) 757-5106, extension 2.

The nonprofit Kaatsbaan International Dance Center is located on 153 acres in Tivoli on a historic site that was once home to Eleanor Roosevelt’s grandparents. Pictured above is the Stanford White-designed music barn. (photo by Rob Rubsam)