Drivers down Classen south of Wilshire couldn’t miss the odd building on the east side of the road. It looked like a 21st century Quonset hut. There was no explanatory signage – just this strange, ribbed, semi-cylinder. It stood unidentified for some time. What was its purpose? And what would it become?
It was originally designed as a fitness facility for an energy firm. The company went through difficulties and the building became a casualty. Meanwhile, a block or so north on Classen, the Oklahoma City Ballet had outgrown its space. The empty fitness center was an obvious move.
I was fascinated with the structure because my daughter, who works for a district council in London, told me it was designed by a British firm, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris. She knew the name because they were working on a large project in her area. How did a London company happen to build in Oklahoma City?
Last week, thanks to a media invitation to watch a rehearsal of the ballet company’s upcoming production, I had the opportunity to see the building and get an answer to my question.
The structure has adapted beautifully to its new purpose. The former basketball court has become the main rehearsal space. The basketball court floor has been replaced with the sprung floor necessary for the dancers. It’s large enough to rehearse a double cast. Translucent shades on the west end of the rehearsal hall cut down glare and heat from the afternoon sun.
There is a small lobby, offices and smaller rehearsal space. Downstairs, structural columns were removed and the ceiling reinforced to serve other purposes. A small display case held several costumes from the February production.
The building has won a number of awards including the American Institute of Architects’ Central Regional Design Excellence award in 2016. Visitors from many parts of the globe have come to see the innovative design.
As for the architect, he’s Wade Scaramucci, Oklahoma native and graduate of the Oklahoma University School of Architecture. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because his mother, Avis, is an entrepreneur and inductee in the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. Wade lives in London but visits OKC frequently. Impressed with the city’s growth, he gained clients for the firm, which now has an office here.
It was a bonus to get to see the OKC Ballet. Oklahoma City Ballet was founded in 1972 by husband and wife, Miguel Terekhov and Yvonne Chouteau, one of Oklahoma’s Famous Five Native American ballerinas. The company is made up of dancers coming from a number of prestigious ballet companies.
OKC Ballet is the resident company of the Civic Center and mounts four main stage productions there during the season. In addition they also tour throughout Oklahoma and surrounding states.
I walked in during the rehearsal of Act II of Romeo and Juliet. Even without the fancy costumes and stage dressing of a performance, the dancing was stunning. Leaps, spins and lifts were accomplished with utmost grace and beauty. Although Prokofiev’s music came from a boom box instead of a live orchestra, the performance on the bare dance floor was breath-taking.
Romeo and Juliet will be performed at the Civic Center On Friday February 14, 8 p.m., Saturday, February 15, 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday February 16 at 2 p.m. Choreography was created by Robert Mills, OKC Ballet Artistic Director. The set and costumes were designed by internationally known opera and ballet scenic designer Alain Vaes who originally created the hand-painted drops and elaborate costumes for the Boston Ballet.
If you’re looking for a very special Valentine present – this is it. Tickets are available either online at www.okcballet.org or by calling (405) 848-8637. Prices range from $20 to $77.
And now for the icing on my day’s cupcake: Among the company of American and international dancers is one Oklahoman – Edmond’s own Kara Troester, daughter of Bob and Julie Troester. Kara attended Oklahoma Christian School eleven years before finishing her final year of high school home-schooling and spending more time on her dancing.
Kara danced two seasons with the Kansas City Ballet before returning to Oklahoma. This is her third season with OKC Ballet. At 21, she’s one of the younger dancers and a member of the Corps de Ballet. Some day she hopes to be a principal dancer. She says, “It’s always the dream.”
I asked her if she would be auditioning for other companies in other parts of the country. She answered, “I’ve loved growing up in this city and seeing how it’s changed. I love the direction this company has gone. And I love living here and having the proximity of family and friends.”
Dancers don’t rate high on the pay scale but Kara says, “It’s worth every penny – just to dance, it’s a plus to get paid!”
One of the cool things about my job is you so often find so much more than you were looking for. I started out looking for a building; I got to see one of Oklahoma’s artistic treasures in action, and I met a very special young woman. It doesn’t get much better than that.