Q+A: Michael Chernov, GK Arts Center

On the corner of Jay and Plymouth lies one of DUMBO’s most versatile spaces. The Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, (aka The GK Arts Center), is most famously known for their elite school of ballet taught in the Russian tradition, but more than that, they also host a variety of other events throughout the year. Their 20,000-square-foot space is not only home to four studios, but also a full theater with more than 300 seats, which is frequently rented out for exciting events. We sat down with Michael Chernov, the Co-Artistic Director of the GK Arts Center, to talk about the events happening and amenities offered at the Center.

What do you do at the GK Arts Center?

I run the Arts Center and I'm the Co-Artistic Director with my wife Gelsey Kirkland.

I'm also the Executive Director of the whole enterprise, and sometimes I teach dance classes. 

When did you originally open the GK Arts Center and why?

We opened June 2015, three years ago, and we moved from Tribeca, where we were based for five years. This facility is not much bigger than our space in Tribeca, where we had 16,000 square feet of space and six studios, but we did not have a theater there. Our old building was pulled down, so we had no choice but to move. At our current location, we primarily started as a ballet academy, but we fell in love with the space and we created an arts center in order to highlight it.

It took us two years to find a space large enough and with high enough ceilings for the dancers to jump and lift.

Michael Chernov, Co-Artistic Director of GK Arts Center

Why did you decide to open in Dumbo?

Well, we came to DUMBO because we found a theater with rehearsal and dance studios here, and fell in love with the neighborhood! Our current facility used to be St Ann's Warehouse so it was already well-suited to our needs. It took us two years to find a space large enough and with high enough ceilings for the dancers to jump and lift.

The aim of GK Arts Center has always been to stay central to both Manhattan and Brooklyn. I think of DUMBO as a place with one foot in both boroughs.

You created one of the first shows at the GK Arts Center, Stealing Time. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

The subject material of the show is eternity— the struggle between our here and now, structured time, versus eternity. It is focused on how man is trapped inside a clock and also trapped by the mundane. It's a surreal ballet, set in the 1920s when surreal art was popular, and each scene is a bit like a dream, or a nightmare. It gets the ideas to you through images rather than intellect.

Do you see yourself creating any other ballet shows?

Yes, I have one in the works called AmeriCarnage. The show starts off in the Americana style and Old Hollywood, and then it dissolves into where the United States is now, including all the country’s problems with depression, drugs, and school shootings, which is why it's called Americarnage.

Does the Center have any events coming up?

In June there is a multitude of dance performances from contemporary dance companies and schools.

In August we will be hosting one of the events of the Mostly Mozart Festival, organized by Lincoln Center. The DUMBO Dance Festival is returning here in October. There's a ton of other events that have been here recently; we just hosted a big model competition, and in January we had an opera called Acquanetta, put on by the Beth Morrison Project, which was a very big success. Angels in America also rehearsed here in January before they went to Broadway.

In addition to the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Ballet for elite dancers, you also offer classes for children. How are these different from children’s dance classes at other schools?

For children age 3-14 years, we have after school programs and weekend classes. We create a less commercial atmosphere, focusing the children towards a deeper understanding of dance.

In addition, this fall we will be introducing rhythmic gymnastics daily.

We don't want to just be thought of as a ballet center, as that's only about half of what we do.

Michael Chernov, Co-Artistic Director of GK Arts Center

Are your studios and spaces available for events other than shows?

Yes! I want people to know that they can have corporate events, film and video shoots, weddings, etc. as well. We offer many amenities such as commercial-level wifi, projectors, and entertainment equipment. We have hosted events for both small and large corporations. We also use the rehearsal spaces for classes other than just ballet; our center has fencing, hoop, and pilates classes. We don't want to just be thought of as a ballet center, as that's only about half of what we do; our facilities are rented out for events and classes of all kinds. I encourage everyone to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up with what’s going on inside our walls.

What are your favorite places in Dumbo?

Although I love the atmosphere of DUMBO, I mainly just come here and go to work! However, I enjoy walking around the neighborhood, especially on weekends, and particularly in the pathway by our studios and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Mentioned in this article

Brooklyn Bridge Park - 99 Plymouth Street