“This is national for us,” Gil Boggs, Colorado Ballet Artistic Director, says of the Ballet’s new facility located on the northern edge of Denver’s Art District on Santa Fe. Indeed the 30,000-square foot building designed by Denver-based Semple Brown not only situates the Ballet in a nationally known cultural district but it also adds Colorado Ballet to a shortlist of professional companies who own their spaces. And with just over 10% of its $6.5 million capital campaign goal left to raise, they’ll own their space free and clear – an accomplishment that may surprise some who thought the Ballet’s financial standing tipped more towards the red than the black.
The new three-story space literally and metaphorically positions Colorado Ballet for a future as the region’s dance hub. Boggs sees the building as a multifaceted recruiting tool. Coupled with Denver’s world-class venues like the Ellie Caulkins Opera House and Newman Center, Colorado Ballet’s building offers state-of-the-art rehearsal studios in addition to sought-after amenities like medical and massage therapy rooms. By being in the heart of a neighborhood and within walking distance of seven schools, the community has unprecedented access to go behind the scenes through open house and First Friday events. Seemingly disconnected from the street, the building’s back entrance functions as a safe haven for the Academy students and their parents and blocks out the zooming traffic on Santa Fe, a state highway. Perhaps the building’s cantilevered roof expresses that simultaneously outward- and inward-looking sentiment best. It acts as a gateway to and from the art district while the second-story studio juts out into the street. As one heads north on Santa Fe, the tip of the roof visually connects with that of the Convention Center.
Like the dancers inside, the building shines with grace, strength, endurance and flexibility. From inside the studios, the downtown skyline to the north and the Rockies to the west provide striking views while the bountiful glass windows provide the community with glimpses of rehearsals in progress from the street. Semple Brown allowed some of the former sewing-machine warehouse’s bones to peek through which adds character and history to the permanently welded Marley floors and 20-foot high studio ceilings. Even the costume shop in the basement manages to feel cheery and open. Eight rehearsal studios with consistent proportions including one with a hardwood floor for tap, clogging or step dancing provide maximum capacity for classes, rehearsals and events. The space even has a Black Box Theatre complete with lux bleacher seating and eventual full theatrical lighting for intimate performances. Just like the studios, the Black Book theatre can also be rented out to other dance and performing arts groups. Boggs hopes the theatre will attract edgier, emerging choreographers.
But for all the external messaging about Colorado Ballet’s new facility, it’s the internal messaging that has the greatest impact on the organization’s success. As Semple Brown’s performing arts specialist Chris Wineman asked, “How do you assign the cost per square foot on a building that makes you want to try harder?” This building does just that for the professional company and staff. It has not only boosted the morale – the dancers and staff now see their work as truly and deeply respected – but it has also challenged them in a new way to work together and elevate what they do and how they do it. The medical therapy and locker rooms especially address the physical demands made on the dancers. After all, the organization’s greatest capital is the human body; this new space shows everyone in the organization just how special that asset is. Whereas the old building didn’t even have hot water let alone locker rooms, the new building has multiple locker rooms, showers, exercise equipment, a private massage room and several lounge areas. Boggs said, “We all feel a strong responsibility to further the art form, and this new space will help us truly accomplish that.” The Black Box theatre, will enable Colorado Ballet to artistically experiment but with less financial risk. Overall, the building has made a game-changing impact on the organization’s psychological, emotional and physical well-being – even before the punch list has been finalized.
“You can’t exactly say they’re a startup” Wineman says of the 54-year old organization, but the vision, drive and passion of Boggs and the dancers and staff behind him are signs of a new era for Colorado Ballet, one of sustainability and increased recognition locally and nationally. It may be one of the state’s oldest arts groups but it’s still the new kid on the block.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from Americans for the Arts’ ARTSblog, Daily Serving and KYSO Flash.