Performing and creative arts center opens in the Velvet Mill

Performing and creative arts center opens in the Velvet Mill

reporter photo

STONINGTON — In a light-filled studio equipped with a brand new ballet barre and wooden floors, Shannon Heneghan Jutras said she was excited to start teaching dance, especially ballet, to children, teens and adults. 

“It’s really transformative,” said Jutras, who is the artistic director of The Complex Performing and Creative Arts Centre 2, which had its grand opening in the Velvet Mill on Sept. 8. “If you’re going to pick one dance class, please let it be ballet.”

Among the classes that began on Monday are ballet, modern dance and creative movement for children, teenagers and adults. Also on the schedule are classes entitled “Theatre and Music” and “Jazz and Musical Theatre” as well as theater classes for younger and older teens. 

The 1,000-square foot space is the second location of The Complex Performing and Creative Arts Centre in Putnam, which was founded in 2005 by Nichola Johnson, who has a master’s degree in fine arts. 

The Complex focuses on dance, theater, music and visual arts in a supportive environment, Jutras said. 

“What’s unique about the Complex is we don’t think that art should just be for people who already see themselves as artists or for people who want to pursue something professionally. Art should be for everyone,” she said. 

Jutras, 33, of Foster, has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance from the University of Massachusetts- Amherst. She signed up for dance classes the Complex in Putnam three years ago and began to teach there a year later. 

“It made for a wonderful introduction to what The Complex has to offer because I came to it with years of experience and training elsewhere but with a fresh appreciation of what they were offering because I was so eager to dance and learn again myself and because what they offer is so unique,” she said. 

The Complex focuses on guiding students to discover themselves as they build technical skills, self-confidence, self-awareness and critical thinking skills.

“We don’t look at our students as empty vessels whose minds and bodies we’re trying to fill with technique. We look at them as artists that need guidance to cultivate their own creativity,” Jutras said. “There’s a higher degree of attention paid to history and context. The students don’t just learn a pirouette because pirouettes look beautiful, they understand the anatomical relationship, where it came from, but even more than that, they get to play a role in creation.”

When it came time for The Complex to expand to a second location, Jutras said the Velvet Mill was a natural choice. 

“Nichola spent her summers in Stonington and felt a special connection to the area, and we had looked at a few different spaces and something about this space really felt right for concrete reasons, like an exterior entrance that makes it easy for families to access our space directly,” Jutras said.

“Also, the Velvet Mill gives us flexibility to grow, which is our hope. This is perfect for the programming that we’re offering right now, but our hope would be to have more room so that we can have dedicated dance and theater spaces as well as rooms for private music lessons, all of which is possible here.” 

Studying dance, theater and the creative arts gives students the opportunity to cultivate confidence and get in touch with their own creative voices, she said. 

“This year our class gift was a T-shirt with a Picasso quote that said, ‘Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist,’” she said. “That really encompasses our philosophy.” 

For more information, call 860-963-7170 or go to


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