Looking Back at Harlequin’s Hallmarks
Both Pointe and Harlequin Floors started small: the former in 2000 as a quarterly magazine and the latter as a family business in 1970s England. Fast-forward to 2022, and Pointe has transformed itself into a digital brand that continues to champion ballet at its best, while Harlequin is one of the most recognized and sought-after providers of quality dance floors.
And with advertisements in Pointe since our very first print issue, Harlequin has been with us every step of the way! For Pointe’s Tutu (22nd) Anniversary, we sat down with Harlequin to reminisce on some big moments from its history—and hear about how the company grew to become the dance flooring magnate it is today.
A Promising Start
Harlequin was founded in 1977 by Bob Dagger, who, having seen the limited offerings for dance floors at the time, set out to make a surface that was both safe and reliable for dancers. Harlequin counts London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) and The Royal Ballet as some of its first major customers in professional dance. In the early ’80s—when Rudolf Nureyev approached the company about a custom, padded floor—it added the Paris Opéra Ballet to its roster. After finding success in Europe, the company expanded across the pond to the United States, where one of its first jobs was to develop Harlequin Cascade™, its current flagship marley floor, for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.
A Name Fit for Dance
When the company first began, Dagger named it Theatre Flooring, but seven years later, in 1984, he decided to rechristen it with the name dancers know and love today. Many ballet dancers, probably automatically link Harlequin Floors to Petipa’s classic Harlequinade, so it might not come as a surprise to learn that the name for the company was derived from the same inspiration as the ballet—the theater character Arlequin. “The name had life, energy and color, and it transposed into most European languages,” Dagger says of his choice. And in 2018, the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s reconstruction of Harlequinade was performed by ABT—on Harlequin floors.
Improving Dancer Safety and Health
Since the beginning, Harlequin’s goal has been to safeguard dancers’ health. Prior to Harlequin’s technology, there weren’t many options for dancers, says Pat Basileo, executive vice president of Harlequin’s American division. Sprung floors, which are a health and safety standard for studios and stages today, were hard to come by when Harlequin was just starting out. “Some of the old floors that we’ve replaced, when you pull them up, you cannot believe how hard they were,” Basileo remembers. “Harlequin’s floors were all created for dancers, with their input, as well as with information from research by dance industry specialists.”
Over the years, Harlequin’s advertisements in Pointe have featured some of the dreamiest names in ballet, from Yuri Possokhov and Yuan Yuan Tan at San Francisco Ballet to José Carreño and Susan Jaffe at ABT. And now, with Jaffe taking over the reins at ABT, Basileo sees a full-circle moment in more ways than one. “One of the great things about Harlequin is the fact that the dancer starts with us at the very beginning. They go to class, then on to a company, and they’re still dancing on our floors,” she says. “And then they open their own company, or studio, or go on to be an artistic director, like Susan Jaffe.”
A Worldwide Enterprise
With companies as widespread as National Ballet of Canada, National Ballet of China and the Royal New Zealand Ballet all using Harlequin floors, it’s clear that the company has a worldwide presence. And indeed, 45 years after its founding, Harlequin has offices on five continents and continues to be the floor of choice for the world’s most prestigious dance and performing arts companies, theaters, stages, studios and universities.