This startup ballet theater was launched during the pandemic. Now it’s opening a new Farmington headquarters as part of growth efforts

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As the New England Ballet Theater (NEBT) prepares for its third season, the startup nonprofit arts organization is building a new facility and raising funds to continue its growth efforts.

The organization was founded in January 2020, just before COVID-19 swept through the arts and culture industry, to provide a differentiated entertainment experience, with the aim of focusing on new and original works. emerging choreographers.

So far, it has presented eight major live shows that have drawn hundreds of attendees to rented spaces at various venues across Greater Hartford.

Now the group is building a new 3,865 square foot headquarters in Farmington at 353 Scott Swamp Road and launching a new training program to diversify its revenue streams. The site will be the new home base for New England Ballet as it attempts to grow its presence in Greater Hartford with unique productions and educational opportunities.

“We just want to be risk takers,” said Rachael Gnatowski, Artistic and Executive Director of NEBT.

The nonprofit recently launched a $75,000 capital campaign to help fund part of the construction of the new facility. The headquarters will include three dance studios, offices, storage and conference space, a costume shop and dressing rooms for artists and students.

The money will go towards everything from building walls and laying down studio dance floors to hiring new company dancers and starting the school’s pre-professional division.

PHOTO HBJ | STEVE LACHEVER

Fiona Connolly, Head of Development and Costume Director of New England Ballet Theatre.

Every ballet and performance produced by the New England Ballet Theater will premiere in the association’s new home. In addition to the shows, NEBT operates a dance school which will be housed at the Farmington property.

“Our tagline for this campaign is ‘Building the Future of Ballet in New England,’ and that’s really what we’re trying to do,” said Victoria Manning, NEBT’s Deputy Executive Director and School Principal.

NEBT building

NEBT isn’t Connecticut’s only nonprofit ballet group. In fact, a number already exist, including Hartford-based Connecticut Ballet and New Haven Ballet, which are among at least half a dozen other similar organizations.

Gnatowski said she founded her nonprofit with dancer Emily Orzada to offer something different from other ballet theaters that often focus on popular works.

“As a dancer, I kind of noticed that the same shows are played everywhere with the big big companies,” Gnatowski said. “Because we’re all non-profit organizations and constantly fundraising and trying to sell tickets, ballet companies have kind of gotten stuck in a cycle of putting on the same great shows and hiring the same great choreographers.”

For example, Gnatowski said NEBT didn’t produce “The Nutcracker” as a holiday show, and probably never will.

“We decided to do this show called ‘The Fantastic Toysshop,’ which we created for the Greater Hartford area and which kind of celebrates the community,” Gnatowski said.

The New England Ballet is trying to tie its productions to Connecticut and localize performances. The “Fantastic Toysshop”, for example, takes place in 1943 in Hartford on Christmas Eve and highlights the department store G. Fox & Co. and one of its pioneers, Beatrice Fox Auerbach.

The ballet, which was first choreographed in 1919, sold more than 350 tickets for two performances last year.

During its first season, NEBT collaborated with Interval House in Hartford to host a benefit show for the domestic violence nonprofit. He has also partnered with Arts for Learning CT and the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford.

Although this is his third season, Gnatowski said it felt like the full first. Opening just months before the pandemic meant it couldn’t accommodate a full slate of big performances.

A typical season runs from September to May, and the NEBT performs four major shows at venues such as Kingswood Oxford in West Hartford and the Greater Hartford Academy, in addition to smaller pop-up productions. It has performances scheduled for October, December, February and May.

A new house

NEBT opened its own school in February 2021 and will launch its vocational training program when the new Farmington facility debuts in September. Manning said the school was originally started because they needed student dancers for a spring production. From there, the idea germinated.

“A lot of people wanted more — there’s definitely a need and a desire for a great ballet school in the Hartford area,” Manning said. “As the business grows, we need our own dedicated space.”

The three studios in the new headquarters will give Manning the space to launch a new full-time education program for students of all age groups, from 2-year-olds to adults. The school has about 50 students enrolled for the current year, but will have room for potentially several hundred at the new Farmington site.

The largest room in the new facility is large enough for studio productions, said Manning, who joined NEBT as a dancer in its inaugural season but was open to school management as she has always been passionate about teaching.

“I love teaching and training the next generation, so we started and raced with it,” Manning said. “We really try to reach all ages and make ballet much more accessible to everyone.”

Gnatowski said dance companies like NEBT rely on grants and donations to put on their shows — ticket sales don’t cover all the expenses. Although a non-profit organization, NEBT pays all of its professional dancers, choreographers and others associated with productions, in addition to venue rentals.

“That’s why a lot of nonprofits have a school attached — hopefully some of the income you make from the school can go back into those big productions,” Gnatowski said.

NEBT Head of Costume Development and Costume Director Fiona Connolly handles grant writing, fundraising and corporate outreach sponsorship efforts. She is also a costume designer.

“That money is always used to expand our shows, improve costumes, buy sets, sets, or hire guest choreographers,” Connolly said. “It’s always to make our school productions and offerings bigger and better.”

Connolly also manufactures all of the outfits used in the productions, another element unique to NEBT. The new costume shop will provide a place to create her designs, she said.

“It’s certainly been a lot, starting as a brand new company with next to nothing in the costume closet, but it was super exciting for me to be able to start from scratch and whatever my vision for a particular role in a particular show, I can just make it happen,” Connolly said.

Connolly, who is also a performer, said she never planned to get into costume design, but fell in love with the craft while studying at Butler University.

“It’s pretty unique that we have a costume store — not every company has one,” Gnatowski said.

The nonprofit also plans to hire a community outreach coordinator. More dancers and administrators could be brought on the road.

“That’s the next focus as things start to open up – we definitely want to develop the community outreach side more,” Gnatowski said.


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