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Dance teacher Marlina Kessler stands in the front of the studio and hits the "play" button on her stereo. Jazz rhythms fill the air.
The group of children before her are crouching, motionless, forming tiny balls with their bodies.
"If you were a polka dot, round and small, how would you move?" Kessler asks over the music.
Slowly the human "dots" come to life, opening their eyes, raising their arms, expanding into space, standing, sliding and crawling across the smooth wooden floor.
Kessler’s creative movement session is a trial run for a children’s summer Creative Play class in the dance studio at the new Mesa Arts Center.
About 230 summer classes in 14 new studios begin Monday, marking the second of three completion phases for the $94.5 million center.
The first was the opening of a five-gallery, 5,500-square-foot museum, Mesa Contemporary Arts, on April 22.
The theater portion of the arts center will open Sept. 17 with a performance by Michael Crawford, the original star of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "The Phantom of the Opera."
MAC will be the largest, most comprehensive arts center in the state, and its arts education program is growing to fill the larger space, says Robert Schultz, assistant director of art and education.
Mesa Arts Center will offer approximately 250 classes this fall, up 10 percent from last fall, Schultz says.
"We hope to offer more classes at the new arts center, but not that many more," Schultz says. "We’re going from 12 studios to 14 in the new building; it’s just that we can accommodate more students per class."
The studio spaces have rooms for ceramics, painting, printmaking, glass, jewelry and metals, photography, sculpture and multimedia. Performing arts rooms are designed for acting, drama, dance and music, and offer classrooms for arts blocks, summer arts camps, and the Creative Tots program for 3- to 5-year-olds.
The classes will be taught by six full-time instructors, a part-time instructor and contract instructors, Schultz says.
The instructors speak enthusiastically about the upcoming classes, new equipment and new spaces. Some, like Kessler, say they are most looking forward to the extra room.
"It’s very conducive to a lot of creativity; it’s very open, it’s really exciting and vibrant space," she says.
The studios and classrooms are 50 percent larger than those of the old Mesa Arts Center, which was housed in a Depression-era school downtown. Most of the previous rooms were about 600 square feet; the new spaces are approximately 900, Schultz says.
In addition to the 14 art studios, educational studios and classrooms encompass 32,000 square feet. Administrative offices and space for a store add 10,000 square feet.
ROOMIER AND SAFER
While Kessler works with students in the dance studio on the center’s second level, glass instructors Rob Traylor, James Lynch and Laurie Nessel are preparing for classes in the glass studio on the first floor.
Traylor leans over a small kiln called a "hot box," where he is heating strips of colored glass and a square of clear glass to 1,700 degrees. He uses a wooden barbecue skewer with metal prongs he has altered to "comb" the nearly liquid colors through the clear glass.
"This is turning it into molten glass," he says of the hot box. "It melts the colored to the clear. Then I’m taking the tool and I pull the colors through like this."
Traylor is creating a decorative paperweight similar to the ones his students will make in the center’s inaugural paperweights class — which was quickly filled after registration began May 2.
In another part of the room, Lynch uses a blowtorch to form a wine glass in a method called "lampworking."
"I’ll be teaching the advanced lampworking class, mostly vessel work and (techniques of) fusing, how to assemble parts together and make larger objects," Lynch says.
The new studio has better ventilation than the old center, where two wall fans circulated the air, Nessel says.
"When glass is being heated, you create fumes that can be toxic," she says, adding instructors and students had to leave the room for fresh air in the old center.
Instructor David Manje looks forward to using the dedicated wash rooms in his printmaking studio.
"The only way we had to wash out our screens was to run outside, and I had this gas-powered washer," says Manje, who has taught at MAC for 23 years. "We paid someone $10 a day to wash out our screens."
His printmaking studio has a new press and a new screen printing machine, and the painting studio where he will teach with five other staff members includes adjustable air vents, garage-door-style windows that can be opened for painting "en pleine air," skylights for north lighting, and new speakers and stereo equipment.
Manje says the amenities are one way the center can compete with East Valley colleges that offer classes: "Our challenge is, how do we motivate students, how do we push them, if we’re not offering grades?"
EAGER FOR CLASSES
One of 18-year-old Melodie Bogart’s earliest memories is taking a pottery class with her mom at the old Mesa Arts Center.
"I’ve been taking classes at the Mesa Arts Center almost all my life, since I was 4 years old," she says. "We’ve been waiting for this new center for a long time." Bogart found her niche in the center’s performing arts classes and now acts with the center’s Off the Cuff improvisation troupe. Members are required to take an acting class each season; Bogart, a full-time student at a massage therapy school, has signed up for three.
"I signed up for classes on May 2, the day registration opened. I’m so excited!" she says.
Bogart has registered for Generational Improv — a class with a mix of ages, for budding comedians 13 years and older, Eve-olution — a characterization class, and Hip Hop/Jazz.
Bogart and an actor friend also are taking dance "just to see if we can spread our wings a bit and try something different," she says. "A lot of us are kind of just in the acting part, and we want to try something new that the center has to offer."
"I want to go see a few of the shows in the new theater (in September), because I know they’ve got so much to offer now," she says. "It’s not just an old school building; it’s actually something we’ve taken and made our own."
Improv troupe member Joel Cranson, 24, recalls the cramped spaces at the old center.
"When we did Off the Cuff before, we rehearsed in Room 10 . . . it was very long, it was kind of a narrow, rectangular room,’’ he says. ‘‘Here we’re in a much larger (room); we don’t feel like we have to perform side by side anymore."
The acting and theater spaces have foam-padded walls, mirrors, lights and technical equipment, and feels much more professional, says Off the Cuff director and acting instructor Shalynn Reynolds.
The second-floor acting studio’s floor is conducive to movement exercises.
"It’s a sprung Masonite floor, so it’s got a give to it, and it’s great for movement," she says.
‘MY KIDS LOVE IT’
Apache Junction residents Julie Thalman and Denise Murphy sit on wooden benches in the art studios lobby, waiting for their children to complete their first summer class at the center. MAC classes supplement the children’s education.
"We home-school, and it’s just an excellent addition to what we do at home," says Murphy, whose children Colin, 10, Devin, 8, and Brenna, 5, will study art this summer.
The kids were a bit reluctant to walk into the building this morning, Murphy says. "We’re still getting used to (the new center). They were a bit nostalgic for the old building."
"My kids love it — the architecture and the structure," says Thalman, mother of Carly, 10, and Joe, 5. Carly has been enrolled in MAC classes for five years.
"We love the instructors. They take drama and dance, and things they wouldn’t get to do at home."
Meanwhile, 8-year-old identical twins Meghan and Jessica Parsons complete Kessler’s creative movement class — hopping through hulahoops laid on the floor. The Phoenix girls stop to talk about their experience.
"This was our first class," Meghan says.
"I think it was fun because you could express yourself," Jessica says.
"I’m going to ask my mom — no, beg her — to get me into ballet classes here," Meghan says.
The fastest visual arts classes to be filled were Paperweights, Basic Drawing and Painting for kids and several painting classes, says Sandy Trant, visual arts programs supervisor.
On the performance side, Beginning Guitar, Creative Tots and Ballet Basics are filled, says Billy Jones, performing arts programs coordinator.
Teen dance and performance classes are still available, says Jenny Akridge, who supervises the programs.
Classes are officially closed on the first day they begin. Those who are still interested in taking a class may contact the instructor and possibly enroll, Jones and Trant say. The registration catalog and information about the classes are by (480) 644-6501.
Registration for fall classes begins Aug. 12. Visual arts classes begin Sept. 6, and performing arts classes begin Sept. 26.