Ballet West opens new world-class facility

First Published      Last Updated Dec 24 2014 02:33 pm

Dance » Ballet West opens the door of its new world-class facility.

A cross-hatched metallic scrim decorating the boxy Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre offers a new downtown light show on busy 200 South.

The contemporary flair of the diagonal design visually ties the new $22 million building to the brick patterning and terra-cotta façade of its 101-year-old neighbor, the recently renovated Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre. Arts leaders think the high-tech LED lighting display will shine as a metaphor for the cultural and financial investment in Salt Lake City's expanding downtown arts district.

The specific "lighting witchcraftery" of the design is thought to be unique in the country. "We wanted that play of theater in the exterior," says Brian D. Junge, vice president of HKS architects, without competing with the lights of the Capitol Theatre marquee.

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.

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Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre, by the numbers

Cost » $21.5 million; earned LEED Gold certification

Square-footage » 55,000

Cost per square foot » $299

Land acquisition » $2.4 million

Design and construction for West Temple dropoff, previously Rocky Mountain Power’s Kilowatt Park » $500,000

Capitol Theatre renovation, Phase I, completed in 2013 » $5.9 million

Capitol Theatre renovation, Phase II, projected for 2015 or 2016 » $3.2 million

Biggest rehearsal studio » 48 feet deep and 80 feet wide

Capitol Theatre ballet staging » 48 feet deep and 44 feet wide

Carpet and installation in the Capitol Theatre » $185,296

Matching carpet for the Ballet Centre lobby » $230,430

Private funders » Includes the S.J. and Jessie E. Quinney Foundation, who earned naming rights, and the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Emma Eccles Jones Foundation, John and Marcia Price Family Foundation and Frederick Q. Lawson Foundation.