While the pandemic forced many venues to take an intermission, Maria Caruso of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, is setting the stage for a new performance space and dance school on the North Shore.

The Movement Factory will occupy 10,000 square feet of a 176,000-square-foot building on Preble Avenue, which, once housed the Fort Pitt Bedding Company.

When it opens in 2021, it will include a 175-seat theater, three multi-function studios, a lobby area with classrooms, locker rooms and administrative offices, and a rooftop green space. Caruso, who is the founder and artistic director of Bodiography, calls it a “cultural town hall” for the North Shore.

She is partnering with the City of Pittsburgh, general contractor Bridge City Builders, architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and FortyEighty Architecture and developer David Colaizzi, who bought the building in 2007 to house his software consulting business, Fivestar Development.

Approximately 52,000 square feet has been converted into loft office space used by Colaizzi, Bridge City Builders and Remedy Metrics, a data-driven patient app platform. The creation of The Movement Factory is the second phase of the building’s transformation.

“This opportunity represents more than just restoring a building since this rejuvenation will also create an economic impact on the immediate neighborhood by creating jobs, supporting the riverside ecosystem and attracting restaurants to complement existing commercial and retail establishments,” Caruso says.

Photo by Joshua Sweeny.

Caruso, 40, a native of Rural Valley, PA, has been dancing most of her life.

By the time she was 15, Caruso was enrolled in the dance program at La Roche University, where she now serves as chair of the Performing Arts Department. At 16, she graduated from high school with honors and continued her education at Florida State University.

While dancing down South, Caruso realized her changing body no longer fit the waifish ballet form. This inspired Caruso to open Bodiography in New York City in 2000 to serve the needs of dancers with bodies that don’t fit the norm.

A year later, she relocated the company to Gene Kelly’s original dance studio in Squirrel Hill. At the Forbes Avenue site, she offers a range of public classes as well as pre-professional training and will continue to do so when The Movement Factory opens.

The North Shore location will house La Roche University’s Performing Arts Department, Caruso’s production company, M-Train Productions, and offices for The Arts Inclusive, an art-centric publication launching this spring. In the next five years, she hopes to add artist and student housing to the building.

She is excited to bring off-Broadway shows and international dance companies, such as Brazil’s Cisne Negro, to the performance space.