OBT’s Next 25 Years:
Bold Steps toward an Exciting Future

With two new buildings opening in January to house the company and expanding ballet school, two major grants from local foundations to invest in bold new programming, and a renewed focus on sustainability, OBT’s future has never looked brighter.

It wasn’t long ago that the chance of OBT closing its doors forever felt like a real possibility. Seen in that light, the company’s recent achievements are all the more profound. OBT is on a more disciplined path than ever before, with a strengthening company, major institutional partners committing new multi-year grants to support our artistic vision, and moves that will not only ensure a stable financial footing for the future, but allow us to fulfill our mission in ways that would have seemed impossible a short time ago.

Two New Homes for OBT!
South Waterfront & West Linn School Branch

Earlier this year OBT announced that after more than 15 wonderful years in its current location it was preparing to make the vibrant South Waterfront District its new home. Its current studio located at 818 SE 6th Street has been OBT’s home for more than 15 years but no longer suits the company’s growing needs. An offer to purchase the property for redevelopment provided OBT with a unique opportunity to envision a healthier financial climate and to provide necessary space for its growing school and company. Proceeds from the sale will be used in part to clear the company’s $1.8 million debt while protecting the balance of the funds to begin planning for company’s next stage.

Visiting the new space, June 2015

The new space, at 0720 SW Bancroft Street, offers a host of new amenities, including expanded studio space, ample parking, easy public transit access, improved box office/lobby space, and an office layout that supports the kind of collaborative work environment established by the new team leadership. Renovations began on the new space this past fall and OBT expects to close on the sale of its building (where programs continue uninterrupted) in December. The move will be completed over the holidays and in time for winter classes to begin on January 4th of the New Year.

One of OBT’s most important assets has always been its ballet school. The rapid growth of School of Oregon Ballet Theatre has been impeded by our lack of space. We are thrilled to announce that, in addition to our expanded South Waterfront studio space, we will be opening a branch studio for the School of OBT in West Linn! All classes will be taught by SOBT’s professional faculty of accomplished artists providing easier access to quality dance training for families in the growing communities south of the downtown core.

Located at 19066 Willamette Drive in West Linn, the space was previously used as a dance school and studio, so the build-out required is minimal and will allow programming to begin very soon. We’re thrilled at the opportunity to reach artisticallyn under-served audiences in outlying areas like Clackamas, Gladstone, Oregon City, West Linn and Lake Oswego.

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“Our new location will all even greater access to the School of Oregon Ballet Theater and OBT,” Said School Director Tony Jones. “All the wonderful programming families to our south have come to know and enjoy will be equally available to them but a bit closer to home.”

Winter term will begin in both spaces on January 4, 2016 with a full curriculum of pre-ballet and ballet levels 1-2 classes for young dancers (3-12 years) and an expanded range of classes for adults which will include Jazz, Ballet for absolute beginners, drop-in ballet classes for all levels, “Dance Together” movement classes for parents and toddlers, and Pilates.

School Director Anthony Jones. Photo by Bill Purcell.
School Director Anthony Jones. Photo by Bill Purcell.

Investing In the Dancers of Tomorrow

OBT is committed to providing world-class training and creative development to the young people in our community who are poised to be the dance artists of tomorrow. For the past 25 years, that investment was centered on the School of OBT. Over the summer we were thrilled to announce a vital next step in fulfilling our mission with the launch of OBT2, a brand-new junior ensemble funded by an incredibly generous three-year grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

Under the direction of Oregon native Lisa Sundstrom, a former American Ballet Theatre and Pennsylvania Ballet principal, OBT2 will not only allow us to deepen our investment in the professional development, career preparation and skill-building of our highest-level SOBT students, providing a crucial bridge between SOBT and the company, but it will provide an amazing new resource for our other Education & Outreach programs. Sundstrom will be developing a repertory for OBT2 that is suitable for more intimate, flexible spaces, making this ensemble an ideal fit for programs like community outreach, in-school residencies, touring, and public events.

Lisa Sundstrom
OBT2 Director Lisa Sundstrom

“I can’t tell you how pleased we are to have someone like Lisa on board to lead OBT2,” comments Artistic Director Kevin Irving. “Her years of experience dancing as a pre-professional with ABT II, and then at the highest levels in one of the world’s most acclaimed companies, as well as her considerable teaching experience make her the ideal coach to mentor and prepare young dancers for a professional career.”

Women Choreographers’ Project

Thanks to an extraordinary grant from the Oregon Community Foundation’s Creative Heights Initiative, Oregon Ballet Theatre will produce a free outdoor dance concert focused solely on female choreographers in 2017. The yet to be named program will feature three fully-staged works by North American female choreographers. Beginning in January 2016, a panel of Oregon dance luminaries (led by Kevin Irving and including White Bird’s Paul Kind and Conduit’s Mary Oslund, among others) will select the artists through an open application process. Rather than focusing on pedigree or the length of the artist’s resume, the panel will look first and foremost at creative capacity, bold vision, and a unique contemporary expression of the classical ballet vocabulary – vibrant, exciting works to add to OBT’s existing repertoire which will engage both artists and audiences.

OBT has offered free outdoor programming many times in past summers, and many ballet companies nationwide offer emerging artist showcases for women choreographers; what makes this program unique in both categories is that the works will be fully-staged world premieres, not workshop productions. That means lights, sets, costumes, a full-length rehearsal period, all the resources offered by a major national ballet company of OBT’s size – and a major boost to the resume of an up-and-coming young woman choreographer who might never have landed on the ballet world’s radar otherwise. Stay tuned in January 2016 for further announcements regarding this project and criteria for choreographer submissions.

“We have committed ourselves to a disciplined path that is rooted in our community,” Said Executive Director Dennis Buehler. “Portland is a place where innovation and creativity live in perfect harmony with community. We are laying a path where that will continue to happen for many years to come.”

The partnership OBT continues to be forged between its artists, students, the community, and all those who support this innovative company are what is making a difference. Everyone associated with OBT believes there is still a lot of work to do, but it certainly is beginning to feel like a new era.

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