Ballet Literally, Kicking It Up A Notch in Moncton.

property picture

Every once in awhile Moncton's "can do" community attitude reputation spawns an entirely surprising business concept that further re-enforces the self-fulfilling prophecy that anything you can think of, can be done from here.

Spawning an internationally recognized professional ballet troupe from Moncton is not the first thing that would come to mind, but as 2006 came to an end, a leading building developer announced that the principal anchor tenant of the renovated and modernized former YMCA building at 68 Highfield Street, would be one of Moncton's quietest and most surprising success growth stories, the Atlantic Ballet Theater of Canada.

In 2007, the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada will be the anchor tenant in a 26,000 square foot three story mixed used building in Moncton's downtown, that once housed the YMCA, which has now moved into a modern new building. Local eyebrows went up almost as high as the principal dancers knees do when leaping across the stage presenting the latest professional quality ballet presentation at the Capitol Theatre, at the news of this form of arts business expansion. This most recent display of expertise came just prior to the Moncton-based troupe leaving for an international tour of leading ballet and theatre venues stretching from the southern US to Europe.

In a city of remarkable industrial, commercial and information software marketing success stories that Moncton can claim as their own, the novelty of being the host home stage for an internationally ranked ballet troupe of professional dancers traveling the World stages is starting to wear off. The novelty is being replaced by a growing recognition of the beneficial economic and social impact of such an unusual cultural industry and business growing globally, from Moncton.

Just six years ago, a confluence of happy accidents and entrepreneurial drive brought together the Ballet's co-founders Susan Chalmers-Gauvin, local business woman, mother of a "wanna-be" dancer and visionary, with an enterprising, aspiring choreographer and European trained ballet dancer, Igor Dobrovolsky.

That Ms Chalmers-Gauvin was living in Moncton and Dobrovolsky was in Kiev, in central Europe's Ukraine, well that turned out to be a minor matter that resulted in the Dobrovolsky family's immediate immigration to Moncton.

Within days of landing on the ground in Moncton, the two were launching the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada, in the former Salvation Army Centre at 16 Church. Even this new launch brought a new use to the historic older building, located just off Main Street with a new lease on life when Igor and his newly recruited professional dancers started leaping about practicing their first dance recitals' program in between pitching corporate sponsors for funding.

The pitch to sponsors met a receptive audience for the initial $200,000 worth of seed money to get the ballet in the air and the dancers on the road.

In 2007, the now seasonal and celebrated regional ballet dance company will move into what can only be described as an architect's dream assignment.

Developer and architects collaborated to create a new creative space from an early 50's era high ceiling building that narrowly escaped the wrecker's high hoe wrecking boom to be transformed into a dramatic glass panel and brick streetscape of soaring open window treatments complete with a roof top terrace and the afore mentioned floating glass atrium.

All of this renovation and preservation is occurring on one of the City's busiest downtown intersections.

At 7,500 square feet with room to grow in the 26,000 square foot renovated commercial office space building, the Ballet company is moving into two large dance studios, with dressing rooms and office space as well as access to the roof terrace and view out the atrium.

The story of how this cultural export business got off the ground by importing talent and technique from the classics of dance and then packaging the ensemble into a successful, modern business model of leading corporate sponsorships including Moncton's Grant Thorton LLP, and Lounsbury Furniture and automotive dealer organization, is a testimonial to Moncton's can-do community reputation.

Starting from zero funds and working as a team of professional presenters offering potential corporate sponsors a method of reinforcing their own corporate message and brand by supporting ballet development in Moncton, Chalmers-Gauvin and Dobrovolsky won an immediate vote of confidence from private and public sources to meet their ambitious first year budget.

To make their point, they sold out their performances over the years to an appreciative local audience at Moncton's Capitol Theatre, and began moving out to export their expertise and ballet presentations of recognized classic dance arts to regional audiences. From that foray within a few years were racking up frequent flyer miles as a recognized cultural export enterprise to national and international audiences.

There are several lessons learned from the success of the Ballet company. The first is the impact of a local business finding its footing,( pun intended), and using its artistic requirements for space to help win the case for local architect Jeff VanDommelen, of Architects Four Ltd., to then design an unusual re-use of a heritage space.

The potential to create a dramatic new space using the old building's architectural and structural bones has allowed for a creative new use of space to be created for the Ballet and for other additional tenants that will be attracted to the multi-use commercial space building. The other lesson is the one of local entrepreneurs investing in one another and collaborating to create a stronger and vibrant Moncton as a real estate investment and as a performing arts business.

This point was made in a recent Progress Magazine profile that noted the following assessment.

"The influence of the Atlantic Ballet Theatre has had on Moncton and the entire region goes beyond the obvious immigration perks.

The company has generated a healthy list of positive spin-offs for the Maritime community. Prominent business people help fund the company, attend its annual gala event, and don't miss a show. Local government workers have taken careful notice of the company's success and have pinned Chalmers-Gauvin as an entrepreneurial force with which to be reckoned.

The dancers have branched out their circles to include not just adoring fans but also Atlantic Canadian schoolchildren whom they teach and mentor through their workshops and residencies, Often the dancers, each with their own particular beauty and grace, are stopped on the streets of Moncton by residents and thanking for bringing something so unique to the city.

In a time when western migration is sapping population growth in eastern Canada, the Atlantic Ballet company is building out an international reputation and attracting more young people to consider coming to Moncton and visiting their school of dance.