Brooklyn Ballet founder and artistic director Lynn Parkerson doesn’t believe in keeping ballet hidden away in the rarefied air of the thea-tah. Rather, her philosophy is all about integration – whether mixing classical ballet with hip hop or taking it to the streets, literally, with a series of free performances in public spaces. So it makes perfect sense that Brooklyn Ballet’s new headquarters is in Schermerhorn House, a mixed-used building that offers supportive housing to low-income artists and the formerly homeless. The company’s new home is the result of a collaboration with Common Ground, a nonprofit organization that has created similar offerings in converted Times Square hotels.
Brooklyn Ballet will occupy the ground floor, which will include performance space, a school and offices. The new space will give Parkerson room to institute a full-fledged conservatory program, in addition to open classes for adults and children in the community. The company celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, and we caught up with Parkerson to talk about the new venture.
Flavorpill: How did you get involved with Common Ground?
Lynn Parkerson: We just kind of hit it off right away, and our missions really interfaced nicely. They believe in design as a way to have communities of different economic backgrounds come together… and we’ve been bringing ballet into areas where there typically hasn’t been exposure to classical art. Our community is extremely diverse. A lot of our kids are on scholarships, and our in-school programs are in schools that serve mostly Section-8 residents. There was just a lot of commonality in how we want to impact the community with inspiration and light and space and beauty and hard work.
FP: When you founded Brooklyn Ballet, did you envision eventually having this kind of offering?
LP: We’ve been having outdoor performances on the streets, so this is just kind of a continuation of that, but in a really solid way. I’ve worked in different arts institutions, so I’ve always thought there’s a responsibility to have a community outreach element. But I guess this is kind of unique, and maybe comes out of the times we’re living in. It’s an innovative way to continue to thrive by bringing everybody up, not just a small group that has particular advantages.
FP: What’s your vision for the conservatory program?
LP: Our conservatory will be a strict classical training ground and will be based on a Cuban methodology. My school director, Caridad Martinez, is fantastic and can train dancers as well as anybody in New York City. She’s an Afro-Cuban woman, and the Cuban technique involves putting the Russian technique on a mixed-race population – it’s evolved to develop and incorporate those strengths and deal with whatever adjustments you’d need to make. I probably would not have been so insistent on getting a space had she not come into our organization. I knew we had something that could compete with the other major conservatories.
FP: Your work often combines classical ballet and street dance. What appeals to you about that?
LP: I’m a collagist. I like to find things and put them next to each other and look at how they influence each other, how they are together in the space. It’s quite riveting actually. And the dancers really have fun with each other. The spirit of pop and lock and break dance brings a lot to the ballet world, because they’re just so open. Sometimes the ballet dancers can be a little overly earnest.