ballet dancers performing
New England Ballet Theatre plans to expand its community partnerships and training programs. Photo submitted. Credit: New England Ballet Theatre / New England Ballet Theatre

The co-founder of a Hartford-based ballet theater said the nonprofit organization is launching a capital campaign so it can renovate space in Farmington, allowing the company to expand its community partnerships and training programs.

Rachael Gnatowski, a professional dancer and co-founder of New England Ballet Theatre (NEBT), said she hopes to raise $75,000 to put toward renovating the space on Scott Swamp Road in Farmington, which will include a costume shop, three dance studios, office and conference space, and locker rooms.

“We’re really excited about it,” Gnatowski, who is also the group’s artistic and executive director, said. “We’re only two years old and going into our third season so this was a dream that down the line we could do this, but we didn’t expect for it to happen so fast. That was a pleasant surprise.”

Even though the theater’s opening coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, NEBT started to garner a following, Gnatowski said.

NEBT offers classes for students of all ages, a trainee program, and an apprenticeship program. It will now be able to offer a pre-professional program for students ages 9-18.

The new space is scheduled to open in September.

Having a costume shop is “another dream come true. We have someone on staff who is an amazing costume maker. That will be her space,” Gnatowski said. “She can work out of there instead of her apartment.”

Gnatowski said the group also focuses on developing new ballets and productions.

“Oftentimes, the same ballets and the same choreographers get hired and performed over and over again. This is why we don’t perform ‘The Nutcracker’ in the winter, but we perform a holiday ballet called ‘The Fantastic Toyshop’,” Gnatowski said. “Our ballet is specific to the area – it includes the G.Fox & Co building, Beatrice Fox Auerbach, the Colt building, a tarantella – with nods to the large Italian community, and also there’s a moment of double dutch.”

Helping dancers with their mental health and physical wellness is also important to NEBT, Gnatowki said.

“Company dancers were always low on the totem pole, dancing through injury – burnout is really common,” Gnatowski said.

The group works with Magna Physical Therapy, which gives the dancers priority scheduling and discounts and also has a presence at each performance. Gnatowki hopes to have a similar partnership with a group that can help with the mental and emotional aspect, so that NEBT provides a supportive environment for its dancers.

NEBT also runs various outreach programs and has held classes at schools and senior centers.

Anyone interested in donating can send a check to P.O. Box 271693, West Hartford, CT 06127. Donations can also be made via the group’s PayPal listed on its website. For more information, go here.