Stanford’s renovated Roble Gym welcomes student performers and spectators

Students quickly get to work making art following a $28 million renovation of the historic building.

Stanford students wasted no time getting into the renovated dance studio and new black box theater at Roble Gym in order to prepare for fall performances. A trio of inaugural public performances includes an evening of dance solos featuring Stanford doctoral candidate Rebecca Chaleff in the dance studio, the upcoming production of Spring Awakening, The Musical in the black box theater, and a dance/discussion double-header in the dance studio that will spill out into the courtyard.

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Stanford TAPS

A virtual tour of the new Roble Gym includes the new theater and rehearsal studios.

Historic Roble Gym underwent a $28 million renovation over the summer that included the dance studio upgrade and the creation of an “arts gym,” a flexible rehearsal and art-making space for the general student population.

Chaleff and American choreographer Molissa Fenley christened the renovated Roble Dance Studio earlier this month with two evenings of solo dances created by Fenley. Chaleff danced State of Darkness, Fenley’s world-renowned solo choreographed to Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Fenley performed “Mali,” the eighth part of her most recently created evening-length work, Water Table.

“One of the nicest aspects of rehearsing in the new studio is the floor. It has been beautifully redone, so it is very sprung and a lot of fun to jump on,” said Chaleff. Citing other favorite features of the renovated dance studio, she continued, “As always, the light coming through the huge windows on either side of the studio depending on the time of day is a gorgeous feature. Not to mention the sheer enormity of the space, which inspires me to bring volume and breadth into my dancing. The new sound system is awesome, as are all of the new lights.”

First act

Roble Gym rehearsal

Students run through a rehearsal of the dance elements in the play Spring Awakening, the Musical, in the newly refurbished Roble Dance Studio. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Across the courtyard in the black box-style Roble Studio Theater, students have been rehearsing the Department of Theater and Performance Studies’ main stage production, Spring Awakening, The Musical, since early September as part of the Arts Intensive program. The cast and crew were, in fact, some of the first students in the renovated building.

Directed by Vice Provost Harry Elam Jr., with stage direction by alumnus Ken Savage, the musical is an expose of lost innocence and coming of age based on Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play of the same name. Performance dates and ticket information for the six evening performances and one matinee, Oct. 27–Nov. 5, are on the Theater and Performance Studies website.

Roble black box theater rehearsal

Stage director Ken Savage rehearses with the actors of Spring Awakening, The Musical, in the Roble black box theater. (Image credit: Frank Chen)

James Sherwood, a senior and the stage manager for Spring Awakening, remembered a vastly different Roble Gym from his freshman year. He recalled, “I never took a class there, but did attend rehearsals and auditions in the space. It was a dark, dingy, unkempt gym before the renovation, and it is now a state-of-the-art black box theater.”

Sherwood’s favorite new space in Roble Gym is the booth in the theater. “It is by far the largest booth I’ve ever been in, and I’m so grateful that there is a comfortable atmosphere and location for the technical support to run a production from,” he said.

As a stage manager, Sherwood said he appreciates the flexibility of a black box-style theater. He noted that not only is it equipped with all the latest lighting and sound infrastructure, but the configuration enables the crew to stage Spring Awakening in an unconventional staging style for musical theater, with the audience on three sides. “While this poses a lot of challenges for us as a design team and cast, it has been a fun experience learning the intricacies of a new space, and pushing us to our limits.”

Meredith Charlson was only able to use Roble Gym her freshman year before it closed for renovation. Being back on campus as part of the production crew is a sweet homecoming. “After three years without a real dance home, I was ecstatic being able to come back to Roble as assistant choreographer of Spring Awakening and to find it so beautifully updated,” she said.

Backward and forward

Dance faculty member Aleta Hayes has choreographed a new piece to celebrate the re-opening of Roble Gym. The performance will follow a panel discussion presented by the Stanford Historical Society and TAPS on Nov. 9 titled, “Roble Rewind: A Look Back at Dance and Theater at Stanford.” Both events are free and open to the public.

In a conversation with TAPS Chair Branislav Jakovljevic, Professor Janice Ross and Professor Emeritus Bill Eddelman will trace the evolution of the performing arts in the heart of Silicon Valley. The discussion will begin at 5:30 p.m.

Hayes’ dance titled Ghost Architecture: A Palimpsest will be performed by Chocolate Heads Movement Band in the Roble Dance Studio and the beautifully preserved 1931 interior courtyard at 7 p.m.

Hayes studied dance as an undergraduate at Stanford and fondly remembers Roble Gym as a place of discovery and freedom. She studied ballet growing up and was exposed for the first time to the conceptual rigor and creative license found in modern dance though Susie Cashion and Inga Weiss. Hayes was inspired to commemorate the reopening of the building not only through the Chocolate Heads performance, but also through organizing a festschrift for past and current dance lecturers, written by former students who have gone into the dance field professionally. She said, “I was looking for a way to give back to those artists and teachers who have given so much to their students, the department, as well as the art community at large. I wondered how might I acknowledge those persons who had quite intentionally or perhaps inadvertently influenced me to become the artist and teacher that I am today.” This publication will be available on the evening of the performance.

Like fellow alum Charlson, Ben Cohn is returning to Roble Gym. He acted and danced in the old Roble and will be performing in Ghost Architecture. “My favorite space in the renovated Roble Gym certainly has to be the courtyard, on a clear night with the moon full, looking into the lit-up dance rooms watching rehearsals. It reminds me of an Oxford-like cloister that allows for peace, focus and intrinsic enjoyment of one’s art,” he said. “Roble is a safe space, where creation is more important than competition.”

Media Contacts

Robin Wander, University Communications: (650) 724-6184, rwander@stanford.edu