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City of Dallas to Dazzle with New Performing Arts District
View from the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House of the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, designed by REX/OMA, at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. Photo by Iwan Baan.

By: Jamie Stengle, Associated Press Writer

DALLAS, TX (AP).- The spotlight is on Dallas as it opens its $354 million performing arts center, unveiling a new opera house and theater designed by architectural stars with the idea of making the arts more accessible.

In the Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas-designed Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, the 575-seat performance hall walls are made of transparent glass, so passers-by can watch rehearsals or see the audience file in before a performance starts and the shades go down.

"You can drive by on the street or walk by and look right into the theater," said Kevin Moriarty, artistic director for Dallas Theater Center.

Across the street, the Norman Foster and Spencer de Grey-designed Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, a 2,200-seat venue for opera, ballet and Broadway touring productions, features a glass building that encases the red glass drum surrounding the performance hall and jutting out toward the sky. A solar canopy extends from the building, providing shade for the park surrounding it and the transparent lobby.

"All of this is about creating no barriers to invite people in," de Grey said.

The fundraising campaign that launched in 2000 for the AT&T Performing Arts Center has raised more than $337 million so far, including $16.5 million for an endowment. The center unites performing arts groups that had been scattered throughout the city.

Next year, an outdoor performing arts venue that can accommodate up to 5,000 people will be completed and by 2011, a 750-seat performance hall funded by the city for small productions will open.

A 10-acre public park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne winds through the venues that make up the center.

The new buildings help round out the city's 19-block, 68-acre arts district, which already includes the Dallas Museum of Art, the Renzo Piano-designed Nasher Sculpture Center, the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, the I.M Pei-designed Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and a public magnet school for the arts — the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

"It feels like a homecoming. Everybody's coming to the neighborhood," said Veletta Forsythe Lill, executive director Dallas Arts District.

The 12-story Wyly, which has vertical aluminum tubes covering the majority of the glass building, features a "stacked" design as opposed to the typical theater design where support spaces surround the stage. At the Wyly, guests walk down a slanted entrance to a subterranean ticket office.

The stage for the Wyly, which will also feature performances by groups including the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, is the next level and stacked on top of that are rehearsal spaces, offices and the costume area.

"I think it's quite adventurous in many ways," said Fritz Steiner, architecture school dean at the University of Texas at Austin, who added that the concentration of important building in downtown Dallas is a draw in itself.

The performance hall can be configured as directors wish as the chairs are not affixed to the floor and the balconies are retractable.

At the Winspear, opera artistic director Jonathan Pell calls the acoustics in the new building "simply breathtaking."

"Everything has this wonderful bloom and richness," Pell said.

The opera house will also offer a more intimate experience compared to their previous 3,400-seat space. The new opera house also has a distance of only about 90 feet between the stage and balconies.

Deedie Rose, who was founding board member for the center, said that many people who aren't usually arts patrons contributed to the drive because they knew it would be an important addition to the city.

"This whole thing became a civic project, not just an arts project," she said.

During the center's dedication, Mayor Tom Leppert said that the city's future will depend on it's ability to recruit and keep companies, and a lively arts district will help.

"This performing arts center will help our city stand out," Leppert said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Dallas | Kevin Moriarty | Dallas Theater Center | Michel Desvigne |

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