Ballet West showed off its new 55,000-square-foot home, delivered on time and on budget by Okland Construction for $299 per square foot, at a ribbon cutting on Friday, just hours before the opening performance of this year's "The Nutcracker" run. The Ballet Centre was 14 years in the planning and fundraising phases, and just over a year in construction.
Officials aren't aware of any other historic theater in the country that also features an adjacent contemporary arts center, as it's rare for prime downtown property to become available, says Phil Jordan, director of the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts.
The newest Salt Lake County-operated arts facility was jointly funded by taxpayers and Ballet West fundraising. Its construction is part of a $33.5 million public-private partnership that includes two phases of remodeling for the Capitol Theatre.
A $6 million renovation of the theater was completed last December for the 2013 "Nutcracker" season, while the second $3.2 million phase will take place in 2016 or 2017 after the opening of the 2,500-seat, $116 million George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater under construction nearby on Main Street.
Once inside the Ballet Centre, theatergoers might notice how the new building's windowed lobby is visually linked via the carpet, chandeliers and trim echoing the gold ornamentation of the antique theater. There are also expanded concession facilities, including a glass drink rail and accessible counter on the second level, where there's a "Romeo and Juliet" balcony that Junge calls the "see and be seen" section of the lobby.
In February, "Capriccio," a two-story gold and opal lighted mosaic by Chicago artist Lynn Basa, will be installed as part of Salt Lake County's 1 Percent for Art program, designed to be large enough to be seen from outside the building.
But perhaps the most anticipated offering for the public are the additional 35 restrooms, available on three levels, which nearly double the theater's bathroom capacity.
Architects are proud of The Slot, a glass atrium with a staircase and hallway that visually and functionally connects the contemporary structure with the theater originally built as a hardware warehouse. It offers sound and light locks for theater entrances, which are outlined with the original building's exposed brick, and houses elevators that will make the theater accessible for ticketholders in wheelchairs. "In the new building we resolved the deficiencies of the old building," Junge says.
For Ballet West, the highlight will be the expansive, light-filled state-of-the-art studios, complete with pianos, sound systems and baseboard floor radiators that keep the temperature around 72 to 74 degrees, as required in the dancers' union contract.
The biggest studio's expanse, which is as deep as the Capitol Theatre stage and nearly twice as wide, is expected to translate into more efficient rehearsal time, as will the building's costume, set-building and physical-therapy studios, says Michael Currey, Ballet West production director. The company is set to fully move into their new home in January, after "The Nutcracker" run.
The size of the studio has already made a tangible difference "in the amount of space that these wonderful dancers were able to eat up in their dancing," says artistic director Adam Sklute. "In the past, they always had to minimize or modify things. Now they realize the expansion they could go for." He adds: "It's exciting to watch."
One dancer summed up the new facilities this way: "I feel important now. I feel like the work I do matters."
For the company, the building signifies its future, such as plans to expand the Ballet West Academy, the company's training school. Classes will be more accessible for parents dropping off students, thanks to a new West Temple dropoff behind the building, where Rocky Mountain Power's Kilowatt Park used to be.
The Ballet Centre also includes staff and ticketing offices and two event spaces; one is on the first floor facing a side walkway, which has been dubbed Ballet Alley. The top floor includes a lounge and roof terrace.
Patrons who have toured the building are instantly impressed with the natural light and downtown views in the studios.