Houston Ballet's New Center for Dance Opens Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mar 15, 2011, 14:19 ET from Houston Ballet

HOUSTON, March 15, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Houston Ballet's sleek new Center for Dance will hold a grand opening ceremony on Saturday, April 9 at noon with a ribbon cutting ceremony presided over by Houston Mayor Annise Parker at 601 Preston Street in the heart of downtown Houston's Theater District.  The new, six-story, 115,000 square-foot facility, designed with sustainable features by globally-recognized architecture firm Gensler, will come in around $46.6 million (an estimated $6.4 million under its original projected budget of $53 million), opening ahead of schedule.  The building will boast nine dance studios, a dance lab that seats 200 for presentations as well as rehearsals, and artistic, administrative and support facilities for Houston Ballet and its academy.  Houstonians are invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony, which is free and open to the public, to experience the Center for Dance and to enjoy free performances by Houston Ballet II.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20110315/DC65547)

"With the new Center for Dance, we move a step closer to the next chapter in Houston Ballet's history:  a state-of-the-art facility for the company located in the heart of Houston's Theater District, just across the street from Wortham Theater Center where the company performs.  Moving into the Center for Dance will be a great leap forward for the company, allowing us to significantly expand our education and dance training programs," comments Jesse H. Jones II, co-chairman of the capital campaign and a longtime trustee of Houston Ballet Foundation.  

"This building is a tangible symbol of the city of Houston's passionate commitment to the arts.   And it will cement Houston's reputation as an international center for the performing and visual arts," Mr. Jones continues, "During a time of national economic recession, when the construction and architecture industries are facing major challenges; the construction of the new Center for Dance has created jobs for Houstonians with over 350,000 man hours invested in this project.  In many ways, the construction of the Center for Dance – occurring at a time of significant financial challenge – is a symbol of the resiliency and vitality of Houston, its economy and its people."

"We are very excited that Houston's donor community has helped us to raise $42.3 million in new contributed dollars, which along with the ballet's existing assets, will make the project happen," remarks Houston Ballet Managing Director C.C. Conner.

The economic downturn has also positively affected the overall budget of the Center for Dance.  Houston Ballet broke ground on the Center for Dance on July 15, 2009, with a projected budget of $53 million.  Nearly half of the estimated $6.4 million cost savings is due to the lower prices of steel and concrete as a result of the 2008 recession.  In addition the Center for Dance will open ahead of schedule because as other construction slowed around Houston, the ballet was able to take advantage of readily available crews and materials.

"I think it's an extraordinary achievement for Houston Ballet to realize its vision, especially in these extremely challenging economic times," Andrea Snyder, outgoing director of the national dance service organization Dance USA says. "The commitment on the part of Houston Ballet's board, staff and community proves that dance has the power to unite and excite people."

The new structure will be the largest professional dance company facility of its kind constructed in the United States.  The Houston Chronicle has observed that the building "could be the most exciting new architecture Houston has seen in decades."  (July 31, 2009)

The new facility will more than double the space that Houston Ballet has at its current home located at 1916 West Gray Street in the River Oaks area of Houston, which the company renovated and opened in 1984 and features six dance studios.  Houston Ballet's current home on West Gray is 50,000 square-feet, and the new Center for Dance will be 115,000 square-feet, of which 24,250 square-feet will be rehearsal studios. The Center for Dance will become Houston Ballet's sixth home since its founding in 1955, when it was first housed in a renovated garage at 813 Lovett Boulevard in the Montrose area of Houston.

"I'm delighted that Gensler and Houston Ballet were able to bring this vision to life," said James E. Furr, FAIA, regional managing principal of Gensler's South Central region. "The opportunity to advance the arts, strengthen Houston's reputation, and bolster the city's economy by creating a significant work of civic architecture during a recession has been tremendous. We're thrilled to design a new gateway into downtown Houston and its Theater District." Inspired by a proscenium stage, the granite façade frames daytime and illuminated nighttime views of dancers rehearsing within, so that the building becomes an animated billboard for dance.

By carefully orchestrating a tight construction budget, Gensler designers crafted graceful, seemingly effortless interior spaces that place ballet at center-stage. The concept behind the interior design is to create a gallery-like space within which dancers become works of art. In contrast to the dynamic, colorful dancers, the interiors are quiet, featuring a neutral color palette and a recurrent linear theme. The airy, spacious interior features double-height studios that interior views of rehearsing dancers, and maximize the building's spectacular exterior views overlooking downtown Houston and the bayou. Clear interior sight lines engender a spirit of openness, activity and collaboration. Linear light fixtures appear to dance freeform above the fifth-floor Great Room, activating the space that serves to foster collaboration and socialization between professional dancers, students, teachers and administrative staff.

"Houston Ballet is committed to its mission of improving the art form of ballet on all levels.  Not only will the Center for Dance provide a more appropriate home for the company to foster creativity, but it will also cater to the needs of future generations of students and attract passersby and future patrons with its new highly visible dance studios," comments Mr. Conner, "The new building will also provide a beautiful new Northwest gateway into downtown Houston and the Theater District."

"The Center for Dance gives Houston Ballet a home that is truly an international dance center.  The building will be an icon for the art of dance nationally and internationally. And the Center for Dance will further secure Houston's reputation as a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, international city, with a thriving arts community," notes artistic director Stanton Welch.

The co-chairs of the ongoing capital campaign are John C. Bass, Jesse H. Jones II and the late Anita B. Stude.  (Mrs. Stude served as co-chairman of the campaign until her death in July 2009.)  

Richard Maxwell, AIA is the project principal and James E. Furr, FAIA is the regional managing principal of Gensler's South Central region.  The project manager is Lorrie Foreman of Irvine Team. The general contractor managing the construction is W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation. David Morris is the vice president and project executive, and Laura Bellows is the chairman of the board for W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation.

A Sustainable Green Building

The Center for Dance has been designed using a variety of energy efficient products and methods to create a sustainable building environment.  In an effort to maximize the use of natural light and reduce energy consumption, light fixtures throughout the building will utilize "daylight harvesting," a method of lights automatically adjusting as the amount of sunlight changes during the day.  Light fixtures will maintain a consistent light level with the least amount of power usage.  West-facing studios will have automated blinds that lower as the afternoon sun increases.  White ceramic inlaid windows are designed to reduce energy consumption, while allowing natural light to filter in.

Due to the building's energy efficiency, Houston Ballet will be able to pursue a substantial rebate from Centerpoint Energy, a reward for buildings that install systems that reduce their summer peak loads.

Gensler worked closely with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership to link the Center for Dance to a future hike and bike trail along the bayou's bank and design allows space to build stairways providing a direct connection from the Smith Street side of the Center for Dance to the bayou in the future.

Other energy saving features in the Center for Dance include recycled materials such as reclaimed walnut used on the dance studio entrances, water efficient plumbing, low water landscaping on the grounds, recycling and repurposing furniture and ballet barres from Houston Ballet's West Gray facility, AC zoned to maximize energy efficiency, and office light sensors that dim when rooms are vacant.

30,000 Houston Area Students will Benefit from Education and Outreach Increases

The new Center for Dance will allow Houston Ballet's education and outreach programs to reach more students from a broader section of Houston's population.  During its 2009-2010 season, Houston Ballet served 19,000 students.   In the new Center for Dance, Shelly Power, academy associate director and head of the education and outreach department, estimates reaching 30,000 students (a 60% increase) by 2015.  The Center for Dance's central downtown location in Houston is easily accessible to the city's expanding public transportation network of light rail trains.  

"The Center for Dance's downtown location will be much more accessible to a broader cross section of Houstonians and will allow us to significantly expand the reach of our academy and our education and outreach programs," remarks Ms. Power, "With a world class academy that currently provides instruction for 375 dancers and an education and outreach program that brings dance alive for approximately 19,000 Houston area school students each year the new Center for Dance will provide a home for dance in Houston where future generations of young dancers will come to train, grow, and expand their boundaries for decades to come."

Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab

The Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab will provide artists with a unique space to develop, create and showcase new works.  The dance lab will provide a small-sized venue in the Houston Theater District (which the Houston dance community currently lacks), and it will allow for more intimate performances and smaller scale productions. The space, which will feature 200 retractable seats, will be available to other performers and performing arts organizations for workshops and performance opportunities starting in the fall of 2012, and can also be used as a space for social events for up to 300 people.

Margaret Alkek Williams is a longtime patron of Houston Ballet and her contributions will allow current and future generations of Houston Ballet dancers to thrive creatively in Houston.

In addition to the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab the dance studios throughout the Center for Dance will be named after generous donors.  The studios are: Margaret Wiess Elkins Studio, Ann Gordon Trammell Studio, Barr Studio, Anita Stude Studio, Mary Gibbs Jones Studio, Wortham Studio, and two Brown Studios.  Donations for named studios range from $1 million to $2.5 million.

About Houston Ballet

On February 17, 1969 a troupe of 15 young dancers made its stage debut at Sam Houston State Teacher's College in Huntsville, Texas.  Since that time, Houston Ballet has evolved into a company of 53 dancers with a budget of $18.4 million, a state-of-the-art performance space built especially for the company, Wortham Theater Center,  and an endowment of just over $55 million (as of January 2011), making it the United States' fourth largest ballet company by number of dancers.  Under the administrative leadership of managing director C.C. Conner since 1995, the company has maintained a strong financial position.    

Houston Ballet has toured extensively both nationally and internationally.  Over the last decade, the company has appeared in London at Sadler's Wells, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, in six cities in Spain, in Montréal, at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in New York at City Center, and in cities large and small across the United States.  

Houston Ballet has emerged as a leader in the expensive, labor-intensive task of nurturing the creation and development of new full-length narrative ballets.  The company has also commissioned new one-act ballets from some of the world's most respected choreographers, including Julia Adam, Christopher Bruce, James Kudelka, Trey McIntyre, Paul Taylor, Glen Tetley, Natalie Weir and Lila York.

Writing in The Financial Times on March 6, 2006, dance critic Hilary Ostlere praised Houston Ballet as "a strong, reinvigorated company whose male contingent is particularly impressive, a well-drilled corps and an enviable selection of soloists and principals."  Dance Europe editor Emma Manning observed of the company in November 2004, "One of the first things that hits you about this company is the technical strengths not just of the principals, but throughout the ranks. Watching artistic director Stanton Welch take class on a Sunday morning before a matinee, one could not help but marvel at the multiple turns tossed off by the young women in the corps....The three new works shown in this program will be followed by no fewer than four more Houston premieres.  Can any other major ballet company in the world match that?"

Houston Ballet Orchestra was established in the late 1970s and currently consists of 62 professional musicians who play all ballet performances at Wortham Theater Center under music director Ermanno Florio.

Houston Ballet Academy has reached over 19,000 Houston area students (as of the 2009-2010 season) and has had four academy students win prizes at the prestigious international ballet competition the Prix de Lausanne, with one student winning the overall competition in 2010.



Houston Ballet's New Center for Dance

Largest Professional Dance Company Facility in the United States


At noon on Saturday, April 9, 2011 there will be a ribbon cutting ceremony with Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Houstonians are invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony, which is FREE and open to the public, to experience the Center for Dance and to enjoy free performances by Houston Ballet II.


601 Preston Street at Smith Street in downtown Houston


Houston Ballet's sleek new Center for Dance will hold a grand opening on Saturday, April 9 at noon with a ribbon cutting ceremony presided over by Houston Mayor Annise Parker.  In a move designed to propel Houston Ballet to the next phase of its development, the company broke ground on July 15, 2009 on the Center for Dance, a new 115,000 square-foot facility located at 601 Preston Street at Smith Street in downtown Houston.  The six-story building designed with sustainable features will come in under budget at $46.6 million and will open ahead of schedule.  The building will boast nine dance studios, a dance lab that seats 200 for presentations as well as rehearsals, and artistic, administrative and support facilities for Houston Ballet and its academy.  

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Visit Houston Ballet online at www.houstonballet.org.

Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click appropriate link.

Shelly Power: http://www.profnetconnect.com/shelly_power

Cecil C. Conner: http://www.profnetconnect.com/cecil_c._conner

Stanton Welch: http://www.profnetconnect.com/stanton_welch

SOURCE Houston Ballet