Turning Pointe

OKC Ballet’s elegant new locale marks promising change for the company.

story by Greg Horton

The days when Aubrey McClendon could almost single-handedly—it seemed—keep an arts organization afloat are sadly past. But the legacy of that storied patron of the arts will live on in a multitude of ways as we move forward.

One of the first beneficiaries of this new legacy is the Oklahoma City Ballet. In December of 2016, the company learned they could purchase McClendon’s former American Energy Partners Fitness Center for the staggeringly low price of $4.1 million. It’s a gorgeous space for dance, designed by esteemed expatriate Oklahoma architect Wade Scaramucci, who recently won Britain’s top prize for his firm’s work in London. In a move that showed the overall commitment of the company, board and community, the funds were raised in approximately six weeks, and the sale was completed in February.

The Susan E. Brackett Dance Center | photo by Timothy Soar

Acquisition of the facility—now the Susan E. Brackett Dance Center—is the first phase of a three-phase project to consolidate physical locations and expand the ballet’s offerings, as well as position itself worldwide as a desirable location for dancers. Robert Mills, the company’s artistic director, compared professional dancers to professional athletes in terms of how facilities and opportunities attract them.

“The recruiting process is very similar,” Mills said. “They look at the company, facilities, choreographer, performance space, and the quality of offerings. Also, just like professional athletes, they have a short window of time in which to perform, so they want as many performances as possible in that time.”

The 28,000-square- foot facility contains a shortened basketball court, and under the oversight of board member Jeff Blake—who is also the president of Gumerson Blake Design Build—the court is being converted into a practice floor that is 2.5 times the size of the Civic Center stage. As part of phase three, though, that practice floor will also become a theater for small productions, including modern dance and ballet.

Corps de Ballet dancer Seth Bradley & Soloist Autumn Klein | photo by Shevaun Williams

“The theater will allow us to stage small performances—experimental, avant- garde, modern—without the worry of filling a 2,400-seat theatre like the Civic Center,” Mills said. “The theater will make it possible to offer more opportunities to our dancers, and we can use it to stage the end-of- year performances for our school.”

For the full story, pick up the Summer 2017 issue of Territory:OKC. For more on architect Wade Scaramucci, click here.