After several frustrating months of looking at spaces for her dance company, Amberly M. Simpson stumbled upon a 3,000 sq. ft. facility near the Audubon neighborhood in southeast Louisville.
“I went to check it out, and I remember I called my partner afterward and I was like, ‘This is it, this is our place. … It’s gonna happen,’” she said.
Simpson is artistic director and president of Ambo Dance Theatre. She founded Ambo in the spring of 2019 and officially made it a nonprofit organization earlier this year. In that short amount of time, her modern dance group has grown to house a professional adult company and training programs for younger dancers.
“With bringing in that programming, we also had more time and space needs and finding rehearsal space for a small, just beginning company, like us, was really challenging,” Simpson said. “It was either we could find spaces that are great, but not affordable, or we could find places that were affordable, but didn’t really meet our needs.”
But an upstairs unit at 812 Clarks Lane checked all the affordability, suitability and growth potential boxes — plus lots of windows that could help with better ventilation during a pandemic of an airborne virus.
She signed the lease at the end of April, and has been renovating it since to prepare for a grand opening event on June 18 featuring performances from Ambo Dance Theatre and Flamenco Louisville.
The new facility includes a specialty 50 x 20 foot dance floor in a rehearsal studio that can be converted into an intimate performance space. The organization will start holding dance classes this month that are open to the general public. There’s also an additional room that could become a second dance studio or place for other artistic practices, like theater or the visual arts.
“What I liked about the space is that it accommodated our needs right now, but also left room to grow and expand in the future,” Simpson said.
Part of that expansion would involve bringing other Louisville arts groups into the fold.
“The hope is that we can use the fact that we now have this space that we can access consistently as a way to support other small arts organizations, especially those who are just starting out and trying to grow,” she said. “But even more established organizations if they feel that they can find a fit in what we can offer them.”
Ambo Dance Theatre will also launch its summer artist residency program, with Flamenco Louisville as the first artist-in-residence.
Flamenco Louisville co-director Diana Dinicola said she’s thrilled to return to a dance studio after more than a year away due to the pandemic.
“Now that it is safer to do so, to have a place to do so is incredibly exciting,” she said. “And it has reawakened my desire to create and to share.”
Dinicola said it’s been incredibly difficult to find a spot for her company to hold classes, rehearse and perform. Just like Ambo Dance Theatre, cost and a place that meets the needs of dancers, such as enough space to move and where there won’t be issues with loud music or the sound of Flamenco dance shoes on the floor, have been huge barriers.
The two companies were initially searching for a space together. But, in the end, the Clarks Lane location was a bigger space than Dinicola and her partner had envisioned and she was unsure whether they wanted to take on the “business of managing a theatrical space” as well.
So for now, Flamenco Louisville will be an artist-in-residence as the group continues to hunt for a permanent home.
“However, we have left it open since this is all brand new,” Dinicola said. “We’re sort of developing these ideas as we go along. We have left it open to the idea that at some point later in the summer, we may reevaluate.”
Whether long-term or not for Flamenco Louisville, Dinicola believes Ambo Dance Theatre’s new space is a “tremendous opportunity” for the local arts community.
“And it’s going to be an opportunity not only for people to get what they need for their own creativity, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for everybody to learn to work together in a productive way.”