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Susan Quinn Photography
Dorree Ndooki and Jack Tufts, students in the Berkshire Pulse ballet program, rehearsing in one of the dance studios at Berkshire Pulse, on the top floor of the Rubin Mill in Housatonic.

Berkshire Pulse, reborn and renewed, hosts weekend gala, performances

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By Wednesday, Jun 3, 2015 Arts & Entertainment

Housatonic — In the sunlit, freshly painted top level of a restored mill building in a village that is experiencing a lively rejuvenation, it is hard to believe that there was ever a dark moment for its inhabitants, a dance and creative arts organization that refused to give up, and is now a bustling 6,700-square-foot multi-studio space with students ages 4 to 90.

Bettina Montano, left, and Ellen Gorman. Photo: Susan Quinn Photography

Bettina Montano, left, and Ellen Gorman. Photo: Susan Quinn Photography

Berkshire Pulse Studios’ new digs were heroically completed last year after the studio was forced, three years ago, to leave its first home in the mill building next door when the owners decided to sell it, leaving Pulse little time to move, said Pulse Founder and Artistic Director, Bettina Montano. After three years of planning and work that included a complete overhaul of the new space after a newly installed sprinkler system flooded it, delaying the project for nine months, Pulse finally settled in.

“The phoenix rises,” Montano says, with her trademark exuberant hand gestures and widening big brown eyes.

Now in its 10th year of operation, Pulse is celebrating with an anniversary Gala on Saturday, June 6, at the Daniel Arts Center at Bard College at Simon’s Rock to acknowledge not only its own perseverance in the face cascading challenges, but also the community and people who helped haul it up from the brink, and of course, its students—what the whole enterprise, and Montano­­ –– is all about in the first place.

The Gala takes place on the same weekend as the annual student performances, 3 p.m. matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night’s Gala will be extra special this year, says Montano, because of the “truly grass roots” effort by the community to boost Pulse over the last 10 years, particularly over the last three. “It wasn’t started with one big check,” Montano said. “It happened with many, many little checks. The community put love into it.”

A dance for boys that will be performed during the gala weekend at Bard College at Simon's Rock. Photo: Susan Quinn

A dance for boys that will be performed during the gala weekend at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. Photo: Susan Quinn

Indeed, Montano points to the bolted-down barres in one studio; each five-foot section costs $400, she said, and they were purchased one at a time after supporters pitched in funds. Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox) is personally responsible for one of them.

“We’re using these arts to build community — it’s fuel for what we do,” Montano said.

And the community responded with gusto. Stephan Green and Jennifer Connell from Clark + Green Inc. architects began working with Pulse three years ago and did the entire project pro bono.

In the mad scramble for a new space three years ago, other kind-hearted souls were moved to help. “We were blessed with very patient, supportive landlords,” Montano said of Gloria and the late Allen Rubin, owners of the building.

Pulse’s Board of Directors was “immediately behind the project in a very challenging financial situation,” Montano said. “We had no home, 100 students and lots of adults. We could only accommodate the kids. But the village said ‘we’re here for you and want to help.’ ”

The studio and sprung dance floor that Montano calls the best she's ever danced on.

The studio and sprung dance floor that Montano calls the best she’s ever danced on. Photo: Heather Bellow

Pulse classes surfed between the Housy Dome, Bard College of Simon’s Rock, Berkshire South Regional Community Center, and YogaGB, as the financial campaign and renovation of the new space kept moving forward.

Then there was Montano’s brother Roman Montano, her husband John Louw, and David Blacklow, all of whom Montano says were “pivotal” to making the renovation happen, particularly the most important feature of any dance studio: the floor.

“They spring — they are the best floors any of us have ever danced on,” Montano says, seated at a pale pine table in a light-flooded waiting room off the hall outside the studios. “I want to keep dancing until I’m 100, so we have to take care of the floors.”

“I am obsessed with the floors,” she added, echoing the fixation of dancers everywhere. “They were designed especially for this space, and engineered by Roman and David. We wanted longevity.” After choosing between two prototypes, one was chosen.

Those floors were hard earned. The original floors were warped and wavy before the sprinkler fiasco, Montano said. “After the flood we started from scratch.” Pulse lost nine months and funding suffered. “People lost faith.”

Silas Blacklow, a dancer in the boys program. Photo: Susan Quinn

Silas Blacklow, a dancer in the boys program. Photo: Susan Quinn

But Montano now has a beautiful setting in which to train the serious dancer, the four-year-old sprite, or the adult Flamenco dabbler. Montano said the aesthetic of a dance studio is important to her — she wants her students to have beauty around them as they create it. She says that on any given afternoon and evening, one can walk down the hall — which is lit with long bars of colored glass — and hear the classes going in all three dance studios and the music room. “It is amazing energy to have it all going at the same time,” Montano said. “That was what we wanted.”

It is this energy that Pulse will celebrate at Saturday’s Gala, which will feature a one-hour show of highlights from the performances — the same energy driving its supporters’ generosity. “We want people to have experiences this year,” Montano said of the silent auction. “Who wants to go home with another chachkie?” Biddable experiences include sausage-making at The Meat Market, and a flying lesson or ride from Berkshire Aviation. Berkshire Mountain Bakery has donated an in-house pizza-making event and dinner in the bakery. The list goes on…

Montano says that Pulse has been moved by the show of advertising, support and contributions for the Gala from Great Barrington businesses and those in the larger Berkshire Community. Housatonic businesses have been extra supportive. Pulse is part of what Ellen Gorman, a professional dancer, Pulse teacher and Public Relations/Marketing guru calls a “renaissance” in Housatonic. The village has seen a surge lately with the recent openings of Pleasant & Main Cafe, Housie Market Café and Sisters Used Furniture.

Christa Montano, Bettina's mother. Photo: Susan Quinn

Christa Montano, Bettina’s mother. Photo: Susan Quinn

Dance is in Montano’s blood. Her mother Christa, now in her eighties, was a Martha Graham-trained modern dancer and teacher, who, by the way, will perform in the Gala. Montano’s own specialty is modern; she has a BFA in dance and danced professionally for years, teaching for the last 20. She began the Flowering Child Performing Arts Program in 1995; that program evolved into Berkshire Pulse in 2003. Montano’s passion for dance and access to it is contagious, which is why Pulse, with its accomplished faculty, brings its programs into the schools, and for which the Massachusetts Cultural Council is generous.

Pulse’s public school programs have “grown exponentially this year,” Montano said, and Pulse worked with over 1,000 children in month-long programs and residencies that allows for an “immersion in the curriculum.”

Pulse has a strong commitment to making sure that “no one will be turned a way for an inability to pay,” Gorman said, noting the support for financial aid programs that help not only children but seniors on fixed incomes.

“This is not just about dance training,” Gorman added. “This is about self-esteem, social skills and engaging with the community.”

Pulse Board of Directors President Diane Pearlman says that Montano’s “vision and creativity is truly the beacon for us all.”

Montano is indeed, a force, a fact illustrated by Montano’s own observation that Pulse started out in Housatonic the same year that the village was designated by the state as a place of “slum and blight.”

“It says a lot,” Montano said.

Gorman nodded. “We are the renaissance.”

Saturday’s Gala begins with a cocktail reception at 6 p.m. Special Gala Performance at 7 p.m. Buffet, Music and Dancing at 8 p.m. $100 per ticket.

Catering by The Marketplace Kitchen. Wine by Domaney’s. Beer by Berkshire Brewing Co. Non-alcoholic “Pulse Punch” by Pleasant & Main. Cocktail Hour food by The Brick House. More from The Great Barrington Bagel Co. & Deli and Chocolate Springs.

Matinee performances are Saturday and Sunday 6/6 and 6/7 at 3 p.m. $25 adults/$15 youth age 4-18. Lap children are free. Tickets can be purchased through the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center www.mahaiwe.org or by phone, 413-528-0100. For more information go to https://berkshirepulse.com/


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