Katie Cooper is dancing for joy. After a two-year search for the perfect rehearsal space, the artistic director of Avant Chamber Ballet moved the company into a new studio in Dallas' Design District.
The move comes before dancers begin rehearsals for the company's ambitious season beginning in September. "For the dancers, they have a new home when they come into work," Cooper said.
Founded in 2012, Avant Chamber Ballet dealt with the same challenge as many emerging arts organizations: finding adequate space. "We were just renting and borrowing space from ballet studios locally. And while that's okay, it meant that sometimes we were in two or three studios a week at different locations," Cooper said.
The company now works 30 weeks a year and Cooper grew tired of her rehearsal schedule depending on the availability of someone else's space. For the company to develop, Cooper needed a rehearsal space with a consistently well-maintained floor, a ceiling tall enough for lifts, and floor space with the same dimensions as the stage at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. And the rent had to fit the non-profit organization's budget.
A 3,000 square foot space in the arts friendly neighborhood fits the company's needs perfectly. "We can work with any schedule whereas before I was spending so much time piecing together, quilting together our schedule," Cooper said. "Rent in Dallas is so crazy and for the arts, we really had to be in an area where we could get a huge space and possibly expand. Our real goal is we would love to buy one of these buildings within a few years."
Cooper is excited about increasing outreach programs at the new studio. "We really get to do more community and free performances and open rehearsals out of this space, so we'll have more events to get to know our audience and get to know our donors. We'll have more masterclasses and free classes for the community and have a much bigger reach because of always being able to say ‘yes' to projects because we have a space," Cooper said.
The new studio allows Avant Chamber Ballet to deepen its commitment to acting as a professional training ground for young dancers considering a career in the competitive field.
"That's something Dallas has been missing: a professional finishing school for kids. It is still super common that when a dancer reaches 15, 16, 17 years old, they have to go off to another city to go to a school connected with a professional company to get those last couple of years of training to step up to the next level to be a professional dancer," Cooper said. "That's what our training program is. We have local kids as well as kids moving here from other places to work with us. They'll get a taste of what company life is like, they'll take a company class and then be in some of our productions this year, understudy lots and really get that last little bit of training that kids need."
With a home base established for rehearsals and classes, Cooper expanded the company's season from three to four productions. The season begins on September 7 and 8 with "Morphoses," a mixed repertoire program of three ballets, including Christopher Wheeldon's "Morphoses," Cooper's "Sisterhood," and a world premiere piece choreographed by Cooper set to Brahms' Horn Trio. Anastasia Markina, pianist, Alexander Kerr, concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and David Cooper, principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Cooper's husband, will perform the Brahms' piece.
For the first time in company history, Avant Chamber Ballet will present a full-length production of "The Nutcracker," choreographed by Paul Mejia with a live orchestra conducted by Brad Cawyer, December 20-22. "It is a beautiful, beautiful classic American production," Cooper said, noting the new studio allows the company to take on this grand production. "It was right time and place. No one is doing ‘The Nutcracker' in the Arts District with live music."
As a celebration of Valentine’s Day, the company will perform "Romeo and Juliet" on February 14 and 15. The timeless story featuring Tchaikovsky's score is paired with a world premiere piece choreographed by Cooper with a score by local composer Quinn Mason. The world premiere celebrates the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote. "I am passionate about our rights in America and maintaining what we have," Cooper said.
The season concludes on April 17 and 18 with "Beauty and Beyond." The program combines classical and modern with Cooper's staging of "Aurora's Wedding: Sleeping Beauty Act III" and world premieres by Kimi Nikaidoh and Jennifer Mabus, commissions of the 2020 Women's Choreography Project.
Like the season opener, the season finale includes a work by Christopher Wheeldon, "Five Movements, Three Repeats" which includes the "This Bitter Earth" pas de deux. "Christopher Wheeldon is part of a wave of really amazing choreographers that have gone back to classical ballet and made it new and fresh and interesting and showed everybody that there's still a lot of innovation within our vocabulary. We don't have to go into modern vocabulary or different vocabulary to say something new," Cooper said.
All performances take place at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District.