Aloft Dancetheatre is pirouetting through some major transitions this year. A new set of patrons, new business model and a new performance space in downtown Ventura have given the local modern movement and dance company a fresh start, and will hopefully allow them to put down some permanent roots. For a group that’s led a somewhat nomadic existence the last few decades, it’s a welcome change.
ALoft has its origins in the Plexus Dance Theater, which resided in The Livery for many years. “This was back in the 1990s, when there was money,” recalls creative director Pam Pilkenton. “We had five different companies, and we collaborated.” Participants included dancers, poets, actors, musicians and visual artists, who worked together on projects for Artwalk, the Offbeat Music Festival and the Master Chorale. Plexus lost its downtown space in 1997, and relocated for a time in Meiner’s Oaks. It didn’t last, however, and with money for the arts drying up in the aughts, Plexus collaborators started pursuing independent projects.
Pilkenton opened her Ventura Pilates & Spiraling Arts Studio in 2003, but stayed in touch with the “gang” through the years. “It’s just how people come together when they share a common thread,” she says. Many of the teachers at her studio had been involved with Plexus, and became part of the dance company 1793ALoft when Pilkenton founded it at midtown arts enclave The HUD. The name came from the address.) When the dance space starting being converted to smaller visual arts studios this year, 1793ALoft had to find a new home. “If you don’t have the space, you can’t get the group together. And if you don’t get the group together, the project doesn’t happen,” says Pilkenton.
Luckily, 1793ALoft found help through Julia Campbell and Ben Namba, longtime clients of Pilkenton who offered to help her keep ALoft afloat. The dance company had to form a nonprofit (status is pending) and hunt down a new location, which they found at 47 S. Oak St. in Ventura. “We’re in the downtown arts district again!”
The 4,000-square-foot venue, to be called the NAMBA Performing Arts Space, includes a large central area for a black box-style theater, sections in the back for dressing rooms and storage, and an entire side bay that can be used for classes, as Pilkenton moves her Pilates and GYROTONIC® business to the new location. Renovations are under way, and it should be open for business mid-November or early December.
With this transition, the sky seems to be the limit for the dance company, which Pilkenton admits is still in the planning stages. “This is kind of scary for us. We still need to develop the curriculum, find staff, etc.,” she says. “We’re just inventing it as we go.” But she is excited to finally have the room and financial support to create the kind of interdisciplinary art projects that Plexus always focused on, and that ALoft intends to continue. “It’s a specialized fine-art space,” says Pilkenton. “We’re going to be producing things that are developmental. We have edgy stuff.”
“The challenge for us is educating our town in the alternative arts,” says former Plexus dancer and Aloft’s co-creative director, Cathy Jean Butter. “We’ve got music in the wine bars, visual art in galleries, the Rubicon. But there’s no dance-fueled performance art.”
Pilkenton also hopes that the prestige of the company, and the performing arts space, will help draw creative types from beyond the county. “What we’re trying to do here is get the highway back between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles artists to create this exchange, teaching masters classes, lecture demos, that kind of thing. And it’s that exchange from other artists from other counties that educates, not just entertains, the audience.”
The community is invited to check out the NAMBA Performing Arts Space and get a taste of ALoft’s original work when it hosts a block party Nov. 1. The details are still being worked out, but highlights will include music, performance art and possibly living “mannequins” dancing in the storefront windows. It should be unlike anything Ventura has seen in a while, which is exactly what makes ALoft’s new residency so exciting.
Follow ALoft Dancetheatre developments by visiting www.facebook.com/1793aLoft.