New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble hopes to reach new heights in Summit

Nancy Turano at New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble's new home in Summit.

COURTESY OF NJDTE

New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble artistic director Nancy Turano at the company’s new home in Summit.

Nancy Turano admits to being dazzled by her dance company’s new home. I’ve been calling it “a house of light,” the artistic director says, referring to the skylights in the building on Springfield Avenue in Summit, where the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble moved last month. The ensemble is a pre-professional group, where youngsters who aspire to a career in dance can familiarize themselves with a variety of modern styles.

Natural light is an amenity, for sure, and the garden on the property qualifies as a luxury. What the dancers require is space to leap and turn, however, and the new facility has that, too. Lots of it. Sharing costs with owners Beth and Chris Welsh, the dance group has transformed the former 8,800-sq.-ft. warehouse, dividing the space into four state-of-the-art studios, with additional offices; 649 sq. feet of storage for scenery and costumes; exhibition space, and a patrons’ lounge. The largest of the studios measures a generous 50’ x 48’ with 20’ ceilings. The other studios range in size from 35’ x 42’ to 17’ x 38’; all are equipped with Wi-Fi.

For Turano and her teaching staff, however, the chief advantage is having everything in one place. During its 45-year history, the NJDTE only had a home once before, a chalet-style building in Rahway. By the time Turano became artistic director in 1994, the chalet was gone and she divided her time among locations, with classes twice a week in Cranford and Springfield and rehearsals on weekends at Drew University in Madison. They stored their costumes and scenery in Chatham. If Turano needed a particular piece of music or a video she might have to do the highway hustle. “It always needed a tremendous amount of logistics just to do costume fittings,” she says, adding that she kept the company’s archives at her house.

All the bills haven’t arrived yet, but Turano estimates that the construction and the move to Summit will cost NJDTE approximately $190,000. She says the group has been saving money for this project, and she does not expect to go into debt. NJDTE received a major revenue boost six years ago when Turano added “Young Dancer” classes for kids 7-10, and since then she has also launched a pair of successful summer-study programs. These include the Movement Invention Project, held in New York City, which introduces pre-professional dancers ages 18-22 to today’s most popular improvisational strategies. According to Turano, knowing how to improvise has become a key to employment in contemporary dance. “Dancers really need that flexibility,” she says, adding of her students, “We give them the bridge to New York City.”

The ability to offer classes seven days per week at the studios in Summit will beef up NJDTE’s revenue, too, allowing the group to add adult and professional classes during the day. Some part-time faculty members will become full-time, including Elizabeth Koeppen, the former associate director of Parsons Dance, and contemporary soloist Belinda McGuire. The space can be rented to other artists as well. With New York City only an hour away on NJ Transit, and with local businesses like the Grand Summit Hotel ready to host visitors, Turano feels the new studios can provide an alternative to scarce and pricey New York rehearsal venues.

Turano says she is getting that ball rolling by offering a space grant to emerging choreographer Shannon Gillen, whose start-up company is called Vim and Vigor. In exchange, Gillen has agreed to teach workshops; to create a piece for the dancers of NJDTE; and to present her work at an outdoor event called “Sounds of a Summer Night,” on July 29, at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum, also in Summit. Turano is choreographing a piece for this performance in the gardens, too, and says she hopes the Arboretum will become the site of an annual dance festival complementing the performances that NJDTE gives at other times of the year at Kean University’s Wilkins Theatre, in Union.

Says Turano: “I’m really excited that we can finally have this full-time program and build the type of dancer that I feel is the dancer not only of today but the dancer of tomorrow.”

For information about the upcoming concert, visit reeves-reedarboretum.org.

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