Twenty years ago, Goran Subotic told a reporter from The Day about his hopes for the future. He had recently moved from war-torn Yugoslavia to Mystic with his American-born wife Desiree, and the duo were building a dance studio.
He said at the time, "I want to belong to this place. I'm looking for a way to belong. It's more than running a business and turning a profit. It's knowing the people."
His dream, Subotic said, was to start a theater here.
Now he has. Subotic - who founded Mystic Ballet and then grew it into a flourishing artistic enterprise over the past 15 years - is renovating one of the auditoriums at Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas. He is spearheading its tranformation into a performance home for Mystic Ballet and a space for the community. Individual artists, charities and organizations will be able to rent the theater.
Mystic Stage performing arts center will open with a gala on Saturday, followed by more Mystic Ballet performances on the next two Saturdays.
"This is a new chapter right now," Subotic says.
The theater's Cinema 3 already had a stage, which had been where Cornerstone Productions produced musical theater works for the past five years. When Cornerstone bowed out, Mystic Ballet stepped in and stepped up the vision of what that space could be.
The stage, which had been 25-by-12 and then 30-by-12 in earlier incarnations, has now been expanded to 38-by-25 feet. The stage now features a dance floor just like the one in Mystic Ballet's rehearsal studio, which is located on Mistuxet Avenue.
Three rows of theater chairs were removed to accommodate the larger performance space, leaving 185 seats. State-of-the-art lighting, sound and technical equipment were installed, and a control booth was built at the back of the theater. New curtains also were brought in.
"I think it's absolutely amazing what they have done in there," says Bill Dougherty, owner of Olde Mistick Village Art Cinemas.
Dougherty will still show movies in that auditorium when there are no performances. Subotic expects about a dozen Mystic Ballet shows during the inaugural year and then to expand upon that over time.
Subotic stresses the importance of community involvement in Mystic Stage. Gabriel Gresko, Mystic Ballet's managing director, says that means providing a venue for community performances but also developing ways to connect community members with the performing arts center.
"We are here to serve the community, and we want the theater to be an invaluable resource for Mystic," Gresko says.
Indeed, the banners that will be hung on the building's exterior will include sentiments such as "Mystic Stage - Your Theater" and "Your Company."
While the theater space itself might not be huge, Subotic says, "It's not the size, it's the quality. ... It's small tangibly, but it's huge as an idea."
Dougherty and Olde Mistick Village owner Joyce Olson Resnikoff happily support Mystic Ballet's development of Mystic Stage.
"You meet the right people, and it's almost like a marrige," Subotic says. "I have so many people tremendously enthusiastic about this. ... They share the same passion."
Mystic Ballet will still perform elsewhere, including the Mashantucket Pequot Museum auditorium and the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook. But Mystic Stage will be its home performance space.
Mystic Ballet, which boasts a number of international dancers and choreographers, will continue to perform around the world as well. It has shows scheduled this year in Canada, Japan and Turkey.
Mystic Stage's first phase is expected to cost around $100,000, Subotic says. He hopes to complete a second phase within five years. That would include expanding the stage and adding dressing rooms; the town of Stonington had already approved a proposed expansion in 2008. A building next door is currently being used for dressing rooms.
Now that he's achieving his dream of creating a theater, Subotic says, "I'm just scared I don't have enough time to sleep."
IF YOU GO
What: Mystic Ballet
Where: Mystic Stage Performing Arts Center, Olde Mistick Village Cinemas, Coogan Boulevard, Mystic
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 6 and 13
Also: Grand Opening Gala, which is all but sold out, at 7 p.m. Saturday; tickets are $50
Contact: (860) 536-3671, mysticballet.org