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New headquarters gives the Fort Wayne Ballet a lot to Celebrate

55th season opens October 1

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-09-15


It’s amazing what a few windows and a little sunlight can do.

As Karen Gibbons-Brown, the Executive Director of the Fort Wayne Ballet, gives me a tour of the FWB’s new facilities at the Auer building on 300 East Main Street, I remark on how much more spacious the four dance studios are, how much more open everything is compared to the former headquarters on Penn Avenue, etc.

But Gibbons-Brown tells me that the new studios in the Arts United Building aren’t really that much bigger than the older ones. The main studio is a little larger — “it’s actually as large as our stage, which is great when we go to re-stage the works that we do” — and some of the others are configured a little differently, but they’re all roughly the same size…

So, why am I so far off? “Windows,” Gibbons-Brown says. “Some of those older spaces had no windows. It feels more ‘airy’ here, better lit.”

The difference is pretty dramatic. Perhaps no studio is more striking than the main studio A. Located on the second floor, not only does it have windows on to Main Street, but the entire east wall features floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the atrium of the Auer building. People entering the building can look up and see the Fort Wayne Ballet at work.

“Last night was the first night it got dark out while were still having class,” Gibbons-Brown says. “It was really nice to see the lights come on all over downtown.” She pauses for a moment. “I wonder what it looks like from out there,” she laughs.

But it seems appropriate, given that letting “out there” get a glimpse of what it’s like “in here” was one of the things they took into account when it was decided that the Fort Wayne Ballet would be one of the Arts United organizations to occupy the new building on Main Street.

When the Fort Wayne Ballet moved into its old headquarters on Penn Avenue, it was meant to be a temporary set-up. It was a temporary set-up that lasted 48 years, and though the old building served the FWB well during that time, like most old buildings it was beginning to show signs of wear and tear — occasionally costly wear and tear, like when a leak in the roof damaged a few Nutcracker costumes and some office equipment. (Gibbons-Brown probably wouldn’t thank me for remembering a rehearsal I saw where the ballerinas had to dance around buckets).

Another impression I had in the new space: the studio floors seem slightly — just very, very slightly — “spongey,” for lack of a better term. That one turns out to be not entirely my imagination. “The dancers union has a requirement of give for injury prevention in dance training,” Gibbons-Brown explains. “The other floor was just within the union requirement. This one is much more to standard.”

Gibbons-Brown, who has been with the Fort Wayne Ballet since 1998, obviously loves the new facility for reasons that go beyond windows and floors. “This space has been reconfigured to our needs,” she says. “It’s been an exciting move.”

“We’re a part of the arts campus now. It allows us to be a little more integrated with the rest of the arts community, and it’s nice to see a campus approach to the arts come to realization. Our space allows us to work toward a joint operating model, and share resources, share ideas, not just with the arts product, but with the administrative end.”

What the Fort Wayne Ballet has been at work on for the last few weeks is Celebrations!, the opening performance of their 2011/2012 season on October 1. A mixed repertoire of classical and contemporary pieces, Celebrations! features an encore performance of Birthday Variations, a piece created by Gerald Arpino, the former artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago.

The Fort Wayne Ballet first performed Birthday Variations last year, and besides the Joffrey, it’s the only company to perform the piece in the Midwest. That’s because, as Gibbons-Brown explains, Birthday Variations is protected by a trust — any company that wants to perform the piece not only has to get permission from the trust, but the dancers, the understudies, and even the costumes, need to be approved by the keeper of the trust.

Gibbons-Brown explains that it’s pretty common in repertoire programming to do the same piece for two seasons. Finances, obviously, are a consideration. “You’re given a time period, and we wanted to utilize it,” she says. “But on an artistic level, it often gives a dancer time to ‘grow’ into the role. The first time through, you’re finding familiarity in the comfort of the movement quality. The second time through, you’ve had some time for it to ‘settle’ in your body.”

On the more classical side, Celebrations! offers up a piece from the ballet Paquita — performed as staged after Marius Petipa who originally choreographed it for the Russian stage in 1847. There are also a pair of Pas de Deux featuring Tracy Tritz-Hartman; Lucia Rogers; Kristopher Wojtera from the Louisville Ballet; and David Ingram. Ingram is a former student of the Fort Wayne Ballet who has worked with the organization for their Fort Wayne Ballet, Too summer performances and is joining the faculty full-time after several years at the North Carolina Dance Theater.

Also on the morning of October 1, the Fort Wayne Ballet Youth Company will present The Very Hungry Caterpillar as part of their Fort Wayne Ballet Family Series: Fables, Folk & Fairytales. There are two performances at 10 AM and 11:30 AM, and they take place at the new studios at 300 E Main.

Gibbons-Brown says she’s looking forward to seeing how the new space will help the Fort Wayne Ballet grow as they begin their 55th season. “We really enjoy being here. It’s a visual billboard of what we do. It’s inspiring.”

The Fort Wayne Ballet presents Celebrations!
Saturday, October 1 at 8:30 PM
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets: $18/adult; $13/seniors; $13/youth (ages 11-17); $10/children (ages 3-10)


Family Series: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Saturday, October 1 at 10 AM and 11:30 AM
Auer Center
300 East Main Street
$10/person
Call the Fort Wayne Ballet at (260) 484-9646 for tickets, or drop by their offices at 300 East Main

An Opening Night Champagne Reception will follow the performance of Celebrations!, with catering provided by Club Soda. The reception will be held at the Auer Center immediately after the performance. Tickets are $10.

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