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Season's greetings at the Park Avenue Armory

No more thrilling space has opened up for unconventional performances and installations in recent years than the Park Avenue Armory in 2007. Built in 1861 to resemble Grand Central Station and other majestic 19th century railroad stations and designed as a military facility and social club, it became home to the 7th Regiment of the National Guard, a volunteer unit, its towering 55,000 square foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall ideal for marching maneuvers, its elegant period rooms, created by the likes of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Stanford White, pleasing to the club's socialite members.

Now a haven for a wide ranging arts projects, it has featured among its many outstanding presentations, the 9,216-square-foot action painting "Greeting Card" by Aaron Young, made of burned out tire marks produced by speeding motorcycles, the Royal Shakespeare Company performing five plays in a duplicate of its home theater, installations by Ernesto Neto, Christian Boltanski and Ann Hamilton, Peter Greenaway's multimedia Leonardo's Last Supper, an immersive tribute to Merce Cunningham, and choreographer Elizabeth Streb's acrobatic "Kiss the Air."

"Our mission is to present work that otherwise might never be done," says Rebecca Robertson, the Park Avenue Armory president and executive producer. "The space doesn't dictate. Therefore, artists can develop their ideas anyway that they want. Every artist surprises us."

The new season began with a compelling production of British playwright, Matt Charman's The Machine, a depiction of the epic 1997 New York chess tournament between chess phenomenon Garry Kasparov and a super computer called Deep Blue, developed by IBM and mastermind Dr. Feng-Hsiung Hsu. It runs through September 18. A co commission by the Park Avenue Armory, Donmar Warehouse and Manchester International Festival in England, where it had its premiere, the play is staged by Donmar Warehouse artistic director Josie Rourke like a sports event, with seats around a four-sided chess board, while a giant scoreboard and video cameras record the action on a large screen television.

"Nothing prepares you for the majesty of the Armory," says scenic and costume designer Lucy Osborne. "The challenge was to create the atmosphere of a sports arena." For research, she visited Madison Square Garden. Returning to the task invigorated, she created a complete 360-degree environment, with raked seating, so that audiences will have an intense sense of focus and feelinglike they are almost falling into the chessboard.

The match between Kasparov and Deep Blue always fascinated Charman, who thinks of it as a boxing match. He studied the contenders' backgrounds, more interested in the psychological aspects of the match than in chess itself. "I applied all the basic rules of storytelling," he says, "trying to figure out why people do things, wanting to empathize with their motives." He did the same kind of research into the characters close to them, including Kasparov's mother and the members of the Deep Blue team. "Casting was tough," he adds. "We had to build a family. We wanted an ensemble feel. We wanted the rigor of truthfulness. We got it."

Upcoming Armory Productions:Massive Attack V Adam Curtis ? Sept. 28-Oct. 4;The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic ? Dec. 12-21.[]

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