In a final rehearsal, four Eugene Ballet dancers move across the floor in their new studio, polishing several spots in their routine. This room they are practicing in is built for dance — a tall ceiling, acoustic paneling and plenty of natural light coming through high windows.
For more than 10 years, the Eugene Ballet and its dance academy shared a small building, called the Midtown Arts Center, on Willamette Street. Now, despite the COVID-19 pandemic halting performances, the 40-year-old dance company will land on its feet, rehearsing upcoming virtual shows in its spacious studio at the new Midtown Arts Center.
“This is the biggest space we’ve ever had,” says Eugene Ballet spokesperson Kylie Keppler. “We were in the last one for a little over 10 years, knowing it was temporary. We anticipated finding a permanent home.”
The new Midtown Arts Center is located in a mixed development building on the corner of 16th Avenue and Pearl Street and was designed by Dustrud Architecture. Luxury condos take up the top half of the building, but nearly 30,000 square feet of space on the lower floors belongs to Eugene Ballet, which moved into the new facility in January.
The ballet’s portion of the building cost $6.8 million, with more than one-third of funds coming from the sale of the ballet’s old property, and the rest coming from government, individual and foundation support. The ballet is $1.3 million short of its fundraising goal, $800,000 of which can be attributed to the pandemic canceling in-person fundraising events, according to Executive Director Josh Neckles.
The big attraction of the building is the third floor, which contains two main rehearsal studios — one the size of the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater stage, around 1,700 square feet, and a bigger one the size of the Silva Concert Hall stage at 3,100 square feet.
The studio ceiling is 20 feet high, providing dancers with plenty of space for lifts, and is covered with acoustic panels to help with sound when rehearsing with live musicians. The floors are vinyl and were designed for dance, not just to accommodate it, which was the case in the previous studio.
“The last building we outfitted for us. It technically had a dance floor, but this is better for dancers and better for us,” Keppler says.
Behind the blue curtains along the new studio wall are mirrors and a digital screen, so that choreographers can Zoom with dancers. The Ballet Academy also has its own large screen on the wall. Keppler says these technological advances were added later.
“We implemented these things during COVID. The phase the building was in allowed us to make these pivots,” Keppelr says.
The dancers rehearsing in the larger studio are preparing for A Dream Within Reach, the ballet’s upcoming performance, featuring a series of pieces that will be filmed and streamed digitally. This show marks the first time the company has choreographed dances that were created for film; it’s the first project rehearsed in the new building.
“This is also our first series of pieces created in over a year,” Keppler says, adding that the program was originally supposed to be performed in spring 2020.
Eugene Ballet Academy holds its classes on the second floor. Previously, the academy and the dance company shared studio space. Keppler says the ballet would rehearse until 4 pm, then transition into classes, which was always a little chaotic.
“Now we can always work simultaneously,” she says. The space has a capacity of 500 students, compared with the previous 300.
The ground level serves as a local arts hub, where nine arts organizations such as the Eugene Opera and Orchestra Next are renting offices. Keppler says because the ballet owns its portion of the building, other arts groups renting space won’t see rents go up.
Keppler says that as things return to normal they hope to have more classes to offer adults, which would give parents something to do while they wait for their child to finish class. Keppler says they are optimistic that the Eugene Ballet will have a full season starting in November. Regardless of the pandemic, the company now has a place to permanently call home.