Five Questions With: Miki Ohlsen

Miki Ohlsen is the artistic director the Newport-based contemporary ballet company Island Moving Company, a position she has held since its inception in 1982. Recently, Island Moving Company announced plans to build its own dance studio complex on the site of the former Triplett School at 435 Broadway.

Ohlsen spoke with PBN about the new facility and what Island Moving Company has planned for it.

PBN: What spurred Island Moving Company’s need for a new facility?

OHLSEN: Growth and ensuring that IMC will have a home and be part of the fabric of Newport for years to come was what spurred the need for a new facility. The Newport Academy of Ballet, the school that housed the Island Moving Company for 35 years, was growing by leaps and bounds; so was Island Moving Company. The number of professional dancers that were employed by IMC, the kinds of productions we were producing, coupled with the rapid growth of the school, made it abundantly clear that more space was needed.

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IMC purchased NAB in 2017. We needed a home we could call our own. A home that could house our administrative offices, all of the classes in the school, all of the rehearsal spaces, and also offer other performance opportunities that IMC needs. Although we will perform at the Opera House when it is complete and certain productions will always be performed in the amazing sites for which they were created, IMC needs the flexibility this new home will provide. Student dancers and professionals will train in a state-of-the-art facility that will have the capability of being converted into a performance space when needed. Needless to say, we are very excited.

PBN: What amenities will Island Moving Company’s new home have and how much larger will the new building be compared to the company’s current home?

OHLSEN: IMC’s current home is about 3,400 square feet. We intend to retain our studios on Charles Street. IMC will always have a presence in Washington Square, the heart of the arts in our town. Our new center for dance will bring the arts all the way up Broadway. The new space will be approximately 10,000 square feet. It will have three studios. One smaller and two larger studios separated by a moveable wall, so the space can be converted to a performance space. There will be an ample two-story lobby, lots of dressing rooms for students and wonderful waiting-area spaces for parents. Professional dancers will have their own dressing spaces as well. A second-floor smaller lobby will overlook the downstairs. The administrative offices will be housed on the second floor as well.

PBN: What kind of new and/or expanded programming do you hope to introduce at the new facility?

OHLSEN: There will be so many possibilities to expand programming and collaborate with other not-for-profits. Having a third studio will allow us to offer more programming for younger students who need to be studying right after school rather than late in the evening. It will also allow us to offer daytime adult classes while the company is rehearsing in the other two studios. We have a Young Dancer class for students from the Pell [Elementary] School now. We would certainly look to expand our offerings there. IMC is a great community partner. We will keep our ear to the ground and seek out many different opportunities.

PBN: What initiatives will be implemented to help raise funds for the building’s construction?

OHLSEN: First, we have a development partner that is purchasing half the lot from us, decreasing our cost by half. Four single-family homes will be built on the half of the lot being purchased by the developer. Next, we will seek individual donations from our community of supporters, and we will seek grant funding from foundations.

PBN: Will the new facility also welcome an opportunity for other organizations to utilize its space for events?

OHLSEN: A whole-hearted ‘Yes,’ here. We already collaborate with other performance not-for-profits in our space on Charles Street. Not only will we have more space for others to utilize as rehearsal space, we will have performance space to offer as well. We are so excited to bring a new center for dance to Newport. One that can be used by so many organizations and individuals. We are known for our great work at collaborations. This new home for IMC will only enhance the possibilities of many more collaborations.

James Bessette is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Research@PBN.com.