In Buffalo, performance venues and public art spaces have a habit of popping up in the strangest places.

Take Ani DiFranco's Babeville and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, both housed in the former Asbury Delaware United Methodist Church. Or the Alleyway Theatre, which occupies what used to be a Greyhound bus depot on Main Street.

And thanks to a project much smaller in scale but no less idealistic, Buffalo's arts community can now add the ALT Theatre to that list.

Amy Taravella, co-artistic director of Buffalo Contemporary Dance, has spent the last few months modifying the company's studio space in the Great Arrow Building, 255 Great Arrow Ave., into a 60-seat performance space for alternative dance, theater and art.

She, along with her husband, ALT executive director Lou Taravella, will open the theater in grand fashion on Thursday and next Friday with performances from Buffalo saxophonist Bobby Militello, jazz musician and composer Dave Kane, members of Buffalo Contemporary Dance and Toronto choreographer Gerry Trentham.

It's the start of what Taravella hopes will be a space that fosters creative innovation in front of an intimate crowd. She envisions poetry readings, experimental theater companies, performance art -- the kinds of endeavors that don't aspire to rake in crowds or even turn much of a profit.

"I knew that I wanted to do this, probably ever since I was little, when the theater was my favorite place to be," said Taravella, who recalls spending her childhood days attending Theatre of Youth performances. She admits the genesis of the project came from a desire to have a permanent home for her own work with Buffalo Contemporary Dance, but she says it has since morphed into an attempt to provide Buffalo's experimental arts community with a comfortable and affordable place to do their work.

"I hope that other artists, particularly local performance artists, actors, artists, musicians and dancers, feel almost as comfortable as I do," Taravella said, "that they can come into the space, work at a financially reasonable rate and really take their work to a new level with the experimental nature of the place."

The theater offers artists a unique shape, with a stage about 30 feet across and more than 40 feet deep. Its 60 oak seats, purchased from a church in Ontario, are from the late 19th century, and their terraced configuration means a full view of dancers' bodies for every audience member.

Next week's grand opening of the theater will feature two original dance works by Taravella and Trentham.

Trentham's piece, set to music by a local duo led by Dan Morris, features four dancers and deals with the struggles of a young relationship.

"It really has a feeling of the truth of young love that's fighting for something better," Trentham said, "when you're not quite content, and you want more, and you don't see what you have."

For Taravella's sake, Trentham hopes Buffalo's arts community sees an opportunity with the ALT Theatre to launch new experimental endeavors.

"She's really dedicated to alternative theater," Trentham said. "She's going to have to rent it to everybody, but she's also going to set time aside to really do experimental work."

"This is something that all of us in the arts have been looking for, and it just hasn't existed," Taravella said. "So we just went out and built it. We may be crazy, or we may be really smart."




WHAT: Grand opening of ALT Theatre with Bobby Militello, Dave Kane and Buffalo Contemporary Dance

WHEN: Thursday and next Friday (Militello will perform on Thursday only)

WHERE: Great Arrow Building, 255 Great Arrow Ave.

TICKETS: $20 to $25

INFO: 868-6847