The arts continue to flourish in downtown Riverhead.
The brand-new Peconic Ballet Theatre opened its doors at 71 East Main Street in January, offering a professional dance education to students of all ages.
According to Christiana Bitonti, artistic director of PBT, a grand opening celebration, complete with ribbon cutting, will be held on March 8 at 4:30 p.m. After the ceremony, a short performance will be given by the company and apprentice students; guests will have the opportunity to meet the company and teaching artists.
The Peconic Ballet Theatre offers a wide variety of dance classes and programs for students of all ages and abilities, Bitonti said, with students under the instruction of PBT’s professional dance company in residence.
The new studio boosts a 1000 square foot dance space with sprung floors and a marley mat, which prevents injuries, helps dancers move across the floor, and enables jumps, due to the "spring" in the floor, she said.
In addition, PBT's lobby will be used to host receptions and exhibitions.
Bitonti, an East End resident, is founder and artistic director of Peconic Ballet Theatre and has a professional background in dance and education. Her mission is to foster self-expression and a high level of self-worth through practice, rehearsal and performance.
The Peconic Ballet Theatre, she said, aims to provide experienced an non-experienced dancers of all ages a deep understanding of the cultural impact of the arts through technical training and performance opportunities alongside other professional dancers.
Bitonti founded the Dancecore Performing Arts Company, a professional dance company, in 2009.
"Our resident theater has been the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center," she said, where the dancers performed ballets.
But, as the program grew, Bitonti said the need for a professional dance education program emerged.
"We started establishing a school of dance where the company, and myself, became teachers."
As artistic director, Bitonti wears many hats, including producing ballets, choreography, and creating costumes -- she also established the apprentice program.
"Our mission is to create an environment to teach children the cultural impact of dance through dance education," she said.
Already open and in full swing since January, PBT offers a wide variety of classes for children three and up, including ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, hip hop, modern, and contemporary. Classes for adults are also available. PBT offers classes six days a week from 4 p.m. till 9 p.m.
For students who yearn to pursue a professional career in dance, two programs are offered. The first, for dancers 12 and over, is by audition or invitation only. The "intense" program includes ballet, modern, contemporary, dance history, pointe, and a choreography workshop where students can develop their own pieces.
Also available is a Young Explorers program, for ages eight through 11, which includes ballet, modern, contemporary, and choreography.
For Bitonti, who grew up on the East End but had to travel to points west and New York City for professional training, the PBT is a dream realized. Even when her company first formed, she found herself rehearsing in New York and traveling to the East End to perform.
"We thought, 'Why not provide students here with the same opportunity for a professional dance education?" Bitonti said.
Riverhead, she added, is the perfect choice to site her studio, with a location convenient for both North and South Fork students.
And, with the Suffolk Theatre opening soon and the East End Arts Council nearby, Bitonti is pleased to join a thriving arts community.
"There's been so much drive to rebuild Riverhead again," she said. "I wanted to be a part of that -- to bring something culturally within the arts. I'm very happy to be in Riverhead -- it's great."
PBT has received a warm reception so far.
"It's wonderful," said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. "We're happy to have them." Walter said he hoped a "symbiotic relationship" between the PBT and the Suffolk Theater would evolve.
"Please join us in welcoming Christiana Bitonti and the Peconic Ballet Theatre," Mary Hughes, Executive Director of the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, said.
Bitonti said her hope is to offer in-studio showcases, as well as collaborations with Riverhead restaurants to offer dinner and a show promotions. She is also looking forward to bringing live musicians into the space and "creating a culture where audience can see live shows -- live dance."
Bitonti, who began dancing at three, said even if students do not wish to pursue dance professionally, she is eager to provide them with a strong foundation professional dance training by dedicated artists.
"This is our lives," she said. "This is our passion."
She added, "I love education, and I love the arts -- and I'm very, very passionate about bringing it to the community."