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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Artistic Director Karen Gibbons-Brown watches ballerinas in the new studios of the Fort Wayne Ballet.

Ballet thrives in new studio space

– The Fort Wayne Ballet gave the public a preview of its new Main Street training and administrative facilities Saturday, and for people who had spent time in the ballet’s former digs at 324 Penn Ave., the theme of the day was windows.

The Fort Wayne Ballet is the first of Arts United’s member organizations to move into the Auer Center for Arts and Culture at 300 E. Main St.

Artlink Gallery will soon follow.

It was in 1969, according to the organization’s website, that the Fort Wayne Ballet made what it thought would be a temporary move to 324 Penn Ave., a former liquor warehouse.

Ironically, the original vision of Louis I. Kahn, the architect who designed Arts United Center, involved placing the ballet in the midst of a six-building complex in that general location, Artistic Director Karen Gibbons-Brown says.

But the Fine Arts Foundation, a precursor of Arts United, opted for one building instead.

More than 35 years after Arts United Center was dedicated, Arts United resurrected the arts complex concept by buying the Fourth Wave Building at 300 E. Main St.

The Penn Avenue building served the ballet’s needs for many years, says Anna Ross, education director for the Fort Wayne Ballet.

But in the end it had gotten “pretty dumpy,” she says.

The roof and ceiling leaked, and buckets were a common sight.

Now the Fort Wayne Ballet’s second-floor home matches the professional quality of its works, Gibbons-Brown says.

The new space boasts four rehearsal studios, including one with windows that overlook Main Street and the lobby of the Auer Center.

Three of the four studios have long banks of windows.

Studio B has windows that stretch in a semicircular shape, and Studio D has a hallway observation window that allows young children to look in on rehearsals without having to stand on the tips of their toes.

Locker rooms and administrative offices have been significantly upgraded, leaving far behind the timeworn, make-do feel of the Penn Avenue building.

But by far the most impressive improvements are those windows – a feature the former building lacked and didn’t really need, as hidden from view as it was.

“Dancers are space hogs,” Gibbons-Brown says. “And in this lovely studio with windows looking out over the world, there is almost a sense of spacelessness.”

Gibbons-Brown says the windows will serve as a “visual billboard” for the ballet because drivers will be able to catch glimpses of rehearsals.

For former Fort Wayne Ballet student David Ingram, who returned this month from the North Carolina Dance Theatre to take the job of men’s division coordinator, the new facilities are nothing less than “amazing.”

“This is the best,” he says. “We are very spoiled. We are very lucky to have this be a part of Fort Wayne and of downtown.”

Cathy Coughlin, whose daughter Kerry has been a student at the ballet for more than 15 years, says the new facilities look like “Pottery Barn meets Apple meets ballet.”

“(The students) can see where they’re going to perform right across the way,” she says, referring to the view of Arts United Center from Studio A.

“I don’t know what we’ll do now that we don’t have to bring buckets for the rain,” says another ballet mom, Tamarin Anglin, her tongue firmly in her cheek.