Gala grand opening May 30 shows off bigger, brighter space

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JASON VONDERSMITH; - Scott Lewis, executive director, and Sarah Slipper, artistic director, worked hard to find new space for Northwest Dance Project. And its big space - 8,500 square feet with studios for classes and rehearsal.Once working without a home, Northwest Dance Project not only has landed in a great spot, but it’s the performing arts version of Shangri-La.

In the heart of the Central Eastside at Northeast 10th Avenue and Davis Street, the building encompasses 8,500 square feet of studio and office space, and full dancer accommodations. Best of all, Northwest Dance Project signed a 10-year lease with a five-year option — in a time when such property goes for premium value to business.

“It took a good decade off Sarah’s and my life, but it was worth it,” jokes Scott Lewis, NWDP executive director, who worked arduously to find space for the esteemed dance company, along with Sarah Slipper, artistic director. “I do feel good. We did this for the company. Sarah and I fought so hard for this, and every time it was because the company means so much.

“We got a good landlord,” he adds, of Don Vallaster, “and that makes all the difference in the world. It’s a perfect space and location.”

Northwest Dance Project officially opens the space during its Summer Gala and Grand Opening, Saturday, May 30. A last detail will be a large donor wall put in place in the lobby. The company has been at Northeast 10th and Davis since late March, and has started working on filling studio space with community events and classes — an emphasis in leasing the new building.

The entire project, from moving from its residence just off North Mississippi Avenue to finding temporary space at Portland State University to landing at its plush new building and making the place home, cost about $500,000, Lewis says.

Thrown in the middle was flood damage caused by a water leak at the St. Johns storage facility where NWDP had been temporarily keeping its dance floor and equipment. A plea for help was answered, with $50,000 raised to replace things, helped by one big donor, Lewis says.

It has been a long odyssey.

“It was all by necessity because we got kicked out of the Mississippi space,” Lewis says. “It was a great space, a wonderful place to be, but as soon as the building sold, we were unfortunately honest with the new owner, saying we really needed more space. It became clear our needs were multiple studios and office, and it wasn’t possible there. We had to get out of there by July (2014).”

Lewis and Slipper led an exodus to space at PSU, overlooking Southwest Broadway. The school had room because it hadn’t expanded its dance program. So, NWDP existed there for about nine months, working out of two studios.

Lewis and Slipper had been evaluating the Northeast 10th and Davis site for about two years, through change of ownership to Vallaster, a noted Portland architect (Vallaster & Corl Architects).

“(Vallaster) liked the idea of a dance company being here,” Lewis says. “It was an elongated (negotiation) process, but we came to terms — a 10-year lease with a five-year option is unheard of, because normally people want to tear down buildings and build up, or they’re snatched up by breweries or by cool creative tech firms. ...

“In 2 1/2 years we saw three buildings that were viable.”

COURTESY: CHRISTOPHER PEDDECORD/NWDP - Dancers with the Northwest Dance Project practice in the group's new 8,500-square-foot studio.The Mississippi space was about 2,700 square feet. So, 8,500 is quite an upgrade. One studio is about 3,000 square feet, another 1,500. The building has a vaulted ceiling, a reception area and kitchen, men’s and women’s bathrooms, dressing rooms with lockers, changing stalls, a 600-square-foot office, a conference room, a utility room with washer and dryer and a storage room. Most importantly, it’s very well lit, naturally.

“It has everything we need for 10 to 15 years,” Lewis says.

Northwest Dance Project works with well-known choreographers from around the world; the “Summer Splendors” program, June 26-28 at Lincoln Performance Hall, features works by Slipper, Lucas Crandall, Tracey Durbin and Rachel Erdos. Slipper expects more high praise for NWDP’s new space from visiting choreographers.

Ihsan Rustem, the new NWDP resident choreographer, has seen the space. “He came in and saw the larger studio and said he was blown away, that it was bigger than NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater),” Lewis says.

“It gives us the ability to grow programming, and it gives us space for the company to create,” Slipper says. “It gives me more distance and choreographers more distance. The greater play for the company is about growth (in education and outreach). We want the company on the world stages; they are touring. We’re very interested in getting the company out worldwide, but we’re also very interested in it as a creation center. Both of us, directionally, want this to fill with education,

rehearsal and creation.”

Says Lewis: “We’ll have two studios busy at the same time. It’ll allow us to double our offerings. I want to see choreographers and dance groups in here; I want to give it back to the community.”

Lewis also says that NWDP company dancers deserve such space. Three dancers — Andrea Parson, Franco Nieto and Viktor Usov — have won the prestigious Princess Grace Award.

“A world-class company should at least have a shower,” Lewis says. “They get so happy about the little things. We have a washer and dryer now. I went and bought laundry bags for each of the company dancers, and they were overjoyed.”

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