Daan Braveman has a vision for Nazareth College Arts Center. He sees a beacon of the local arts scene, one that draws international companies to Rochester for the first time and strengthens the school’s internal arts programs.
Braveman, Nazareth’s president, expects the renovated arts center to become an asset not only for the college but for the entire local arts community after it opens Sept. 25. It will feature top-of-the-line patron amenities, performance hall and rehearsal spaces, as well as an expanded lobby with an art gallery and more room for hosting events and receptions.
Braveman said the center pulled in some of the nation’s top performing arts companies during its first 40 years of existence, but a new stage design will offer even greater opportunities. The coming season will feature attractions such as the Jose Limon Dance Company, the Moscow Festival Ballet performing "Sleeping Beauty" and Ed Asner in a one-man show as Franklin Roosevelt.
Dance will be a mainstay of the center. An annual, weeklong dance festival will begin next July, featuring a mix of smaller local acts and large companies at a variety of venues at the college and throughout the city.
Braveman said the festival will fill a void of significant dance festivals in the region and also allow Nazareth to extend its cultural reach. His dream is for the festival to grow into a monthlong event that reaches the scale of the nation’s most prominent dance gatherings, such as Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts.
"There are no dance festivals between Albany and Toronto, and our hope and intent is to create a summer dance festival, advertised throughout the Northeast, that will become a big point of our summer," Braveman said.
Such a festival could quickly become a destination for a sizable dance fan base in the region, he says, and along the way it could bring new patrons to the arts center. Braveman hopes that the performances, lectures and classes of the festival will remind arts lovers that dance is much more than classical ballet.
The festival is a good fit, organizers say, because the local dance community is well above average for a city of Rochester’s size. It is a strength to which the center will play through the festival and its upcoming shows, said Lindsay Reading Korth, director of the arts center.
"When I go to conferences around the country and engage in discussion about the challenges we face, I repeatedly hear from other cities that it’s so hard to present dance because people don’t get it," Korth said. "Well, that’s not the case where we are.
"We have Garth Fagan Dance and its national audience and an emerging national company in Rochester City Ballet. Then you have the companies like PUSH Physical Theatre and Elizabeth Clark Dance Ensemble and Park Avenue Dance Company-not completely professional but really taking chances."
The dance festival also will open up opportunities for Nazareth to collaborate with other arts organizations. Braveman said the college has held discussions with the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film about displaying a large collection of dance photographs. The New York Wine & Culinary Center may hold events at the arts center as well.
Revisions to the stage in Callahan Theater, the main theater, have kept dancers in mind. A welcome upgrade over the previous one, the stage has a sprung floor and fosters greater creativity by the performing companies, Korth said.
The previous stage, built in the 1960s, was a modern marvel in the region. As a thrust stage, the only one in Upstate New York, it put performers close to the audience, representing the democratization of theater popular at the time, said Rachel DeGuzman, the center’s marketing and publicity manager.
The new stage is a hybrid of the thrust and a proscenium, a picture frame opening. Proscenium stages are found in Broadway theaters and the Joyce in New York City. This allows performances to be staged for a single-sided view; most choreographers create work that is intended to be seen from only one side. The thrust stage with stairs allows for intimate performances and actors running down the aisles for children’s theater, she said.
"It makes us more flexible in the performances that we can present but still be a state-of-the-art dance theater," DeGuzman said.
Works by Garth Fagan and other choreographers are best viewed from one side; adding a proscenium arch will enable that.
"This is something Garth Fagan has said over and over again-he choreographs for the proscenium stage," Korth said. "Now we’re going to be able to see all of that dance from a single perspective, as it was meant to be performed."
The stage also includes a new fly system that will greatly simplify scenery changes and can be used for lighting.
Taking artistic risks
Features of the center, especially in the theater, are designed to encourage more risk-taking, Korth said. As the dance festival grows and more companies become acquainted with Nazareth’s facility, they will begin to create new works specifically for the event, she said.
"They can think about what is going to be the next step for them artistically, and we will focus on how we can support that."
With its cultural scope, the value of the arts center as an academic asset becomes even more evident, Braveman said. By way of example he mentions the theater’s fly space. It is controlled by a computer and a counterweight system, so students in theater study programs can gain experience using both methods.
Aside from the theater, the arts center will also have a 2,000-square-foot art gallery with a section for video art. Local and national exhibitions will be mounted in the space. A performance studio with a sprung floor offers rehearsal and instructional space. College donors can relax in a new patrons lounge before the show and during intermission. A renovated reception hall affords sweeping views of the campus, and a new entrance off the parking lot features a new facade and grand staircase leading to the gallery and theater.
The arts center will find its strength, Nazareth officials said, in serving two main functions-a high-class facility for students to learn the fine arts and a drawing point for top companies that also play at venues like the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
"The thing that is somewhat unique about the Nazareth Arts Center as opposed to other venues on campuses is that it’s a community venue as much as a college venue," Braveman said. "It will help attract students and will really be great for our internal programs."
Korth agreed. Any attention the arts center receives becomes marketing for the school, she said. And students will benefit from the high level of shows on its stage, she added."
"A lot of what we’re doing is meant to serve students. That’s the center of the mission. In some ways this is going to be a big advantage for us in terms of recruitment," Korth said.
"Also, if you have world-class artists here for shows and exhibits, think of what that means to our students."
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Show time The curtain will rise at the renovated Nazareth College Arts Center next week. Special section starts on page 19.
09/18/09 (C) Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.