En Pointe

There%26rsquo;s front of the house and back of the house; the audience and the performers. And often the divide is great, with the artists relegated to cramped quarters, prosaic rehearsal halls or inconvenient arrangements as they rehearse for prime-time curtain calls. Not so for the Houston Ballet, whose international profile rose dramatically three weeks ago when the Ballet unfurled its handsome new Center for Dance (naming rights still available) at 601 Preston. Designed by global architectural firm Gensler (Jim Furr reigns over its South Central region) and built by general contractor W. S. Bellows, the structure emits an emphatic architectural statement at the gateway to downtown, catty-corner from the Wortham Theater Center, to which it connects. At nearly $47 million, six soaring floors, nine dance studios, a new Dance Lab (named after patroness Margaret Alkek Williams) and a breathtaking 115,000 square feet, the gleaming Center for Dance is the largest professional dance company facility of its kind in America. Unveiled April 9 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony presided over by Mayor Annise Parker, the Center%26rsquo;s granite-and-glass exterior houses sustainable elements, a cool contemporary on-site dormitory for the Ballet%26rsquo;s Ben Stevenson Academy, a towering porte coch%26egrave;re to welcome the 30,000 students it will serve by 2015, and wardrobe and costume facilities that will be the envy of any company worldwide. It also brings together artistic and administrative personnel, all of whom had previously been housed in the Ballet%26rsquo;s former HQ: a one-time garment factory on West Gray that was half this size and woefully inadequate. The Dance Center is the culmination of the vision of managing director C.C. Conner, artistic director Stanton Welch and the Ballet board of trustees, with a bold capital campaign co-chaired by John C. Bass, Jesse H. Jones II and the late Anita B. Stude. It literally and figuratively connects the dancers to their patrons and the Wortham stage via a 170-foot skybridge adorned with images of leaping performers.

Image: Dancers en studio at Houston Ballet%26rsquo;s Center for Dance. Image courtesy of Gensler, photo by Nic Lehoux.

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