Thursday, December 25, 2014

Sprinkler system soaks the Perelman

For the second time since it opened in 2001, a deluge fire-sprinkler system in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts discharged a large amount of water by accident - this time flooding the rooftop garden and the Perelman Theater below.

No fire was found, but water released Tuesday sometime between 11 and 11:30 p.m. soaked through the rooftop garden into the theater, its stage, seats and floor, and onto electrical equipment.

As a result, this weekend's three performances by the Rennie Harris Puremovement dance company were postponed. Monday night's "Keyboard Conversation" with pianist Jeffrey Siegel has been shifted from the 650-seat Perelman to the 2,500-seat Verizon Hall. And performances next week by American Theater Arts for Youth and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society also may be moved.

The reason for the discharge, and the amount of water involved, is not known, said Kimmel acting president and chief executive officer Natalye Paquin. "It will take between 12 and 24 hours for the space to dry out and to better assess the impact," she said.

Fire does not appear to have been the cause of the dousing, she said: "We could not find a force of heat or something that would have activated the system."

No musical instruments were damaged by the water, she said.

A deluge system dumps a huge amount of water in the first moments after an alarm, rather than the steady spray of more common sprinkler systems.

Rennie Harris said that when he tried to enter the Perelman Theater at 8 a.m. yesterday, he found it marked off with yellow tape as if it were a crime scene.

"I was like, 'Damn - who died?' " The soaked theater interior "looked like Katrina," he said.

Harris said he was in the process of calling his dancers - the three different programs had three different casts - to tell them the performances would not be happening. Dancers were coming from as far away as Los Angeles, and one band member was flying in from Ireland. The company has been rehearsing since October, and has been bringing additional people in since then.

Though Harris is disappointed, he said the postponement might be a blessing in disguise.

"We would have knocked it out of the box, but [the postponement] gives us a chance to reach even further for perfection," he said. "With the three different casts, this was organized chaos. . . . Now that the smoke has cleared, it gives us a shot to be better and stronger."

The Kimmel said later yesterday that the new performance dates will be June 20, 21 and 22.

In December 2002, a sprinkler system went off in the Kimmel's Verizon Hall, soaking the Philadelphia Orchestra and music director Christoph Eschenbach during a rehearsal of The Rite of Spring. Stringed instruments were damaged, as were two Steinway pianos and some of the wood in the hall itself.

"It was like a natural phenomenon," said the maestro, who dubbed the 2002 incident The Rite of the Sprinkler. Subsequently, the fire alarm has sounded again - but, until Tuesday, it was unaccompanied by water.


Contact staff writer Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or pdobrin@philly

news.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/peterdobrin.

By Peter Dobrin and Annette John-Hall Inquirer Staff Writers
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