Amanda Cochrane, principal dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, announced her retirement on Feb. 27, 2023. Amanda has danced with PBT for 14 years. Due to an ankle injury, Cochrane was not able to give a final performance. She joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2009, advanced to soloist in 2012 and to principal in 2014. In 2013, Amanda was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”. We talked to Amanda about her career, love of ballet and future plans.
Why did you choose to begin ballet?
I started ballet classes very early on in my life, so I have been a dancer for as long as I can remember. My parents could see how much I loved to dance and when I became old enough, they began sending me to summer ballet programs around the country to expand my knowledge of the ballet world. I was captivated by the artistry, athleticism and challenges that were presented to me at home and abroad. I continued my ballet training in Washington and focused on my high school studies while simultaneously attending college. After two years training with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Graduate Program, I happily accepted a contract as a professional in the company. Ever since, I have been in disbelief that I could have been so fortunate to have this amazing career.
What is your favorite dance step?
If I had to pick, I would say a saut de chat or any type of traveling jump. I love the feeling of flying through space. I would travel as much as I could in the steps leading up to a saut de chat to gain the maximum momentum to launch myself across the studio. It was an invigorating sense of freedom. It was especially exhilarating when I had a dance partner to toss me into the air.
What is your favorite ballet you danced in?
I have so many favorites. They are each special to me in a unique way. Swan Lake was a ballet I grew up watching and imagining myself dancing one day. It was a truly epic moment for me when I was given the opportunity to perform the dual role of Odette/Odile. I cried quiet tears of joy at the start of my first black swan rehearsal. Sharing the room with women who had inspired me since my beginnings at PBT while rehearsing a variation I had always dreamed of dancing was overwhelming. I loved performing this role because of the depth and range of the two characters you portray, as well as the challenging choreography that is displayed. My three favorite moments to perform in this ballet were the serre devant at the end the white swan adagio, signifying her heartbeat when she falls in love with Prince Siegfried. The coda of black swan pas de deux, during Odile’s backwards hops in arabesque after she has Prince Siegfried wrapped around her little finger. And the heart-wrenching moment that Odette decides to end the tyranny of Rothbart by jumping off a cliff. I must add, the satisfying feeling of falling onto a mattress at the end of a show is something I’ll never forget!
What was your favorite role?
It is again hard to choose, but for now I will tell you about Giselle. For me, one of the best parts of rehearsing Giselle was being coached by Marianna Tcherkassky. She was an iconic Giselle and had so much knowledge to pass onto me. Having such an amazing role model made the experience so special. The story of Giselle highlights the consequences of betrayal and the lengths we will go to for love. The character, Giselle, had a vast capacity for forgiveness and protects a man that has broken her heart to the point of death. It was one of the most emotional stories I have had the privilege of performing. I loved the opening playful dialogue between her and Albrecht. It was so pure and innocent. The portrayal of falling into madness at the end of act one was a truly interesting part of Giselle’s character and one that took many hours of contemplation, coaching and rehearsal. I also loved the challenge of acting like a Wili in act two. Appearing like you’re floating across a stage brings a whole new approach to the way you dance. The ending of Giselle, as she floats down into her grave, chokes me up every time.
What ballet did you not have the opportunity to dance in, but wish you had?
George Balanchine’s Diamonds. I had the opportunity to briefly rehearse this beautiful ballet back in the fall of 2019, but unfortunately was never able to perform it onstage due to the Covid-19 shut down in the spring of 2020. My favorite part of rehearsing Diamonds was the solo in one of the scherzos. It was so musical, and you got to travel and take up all the space in the room.
What will you miss most about PBT?
I will miss all the incredible people I have met and learned from along the way. I will miss being a part of the creativity that happens in these studios. I will miss telling all the love stories and fairytales to Pittsburgh audiences. This retirement is very bittersweet for me and one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I wish my ankle had recovered to a state in which I could continue to be a successful ballerina, however, it is now time for me to move onward to a new stage in my life.
What is your favorite PBT memory?
The many post-performance hugs, celebrations and congratulations between friends and colleagues. There is something so special about a group of people supporting and celebrating each other after weeks of hard work.
What are your favorite non-dance hobbies?
I love outdoor activities. I often go hiking with my husband and Hazelnut, our dog. We love the serenity and beauty of nature. During the summer months we like to go paddle boarding and have even started taking our dog onboard! When I’m not off adventuring, I enjoy curling up by the fire with a good book.
What are your plans for the future?
My husband and I are relocating to my hometown in Washington. We are so excited to be closer to our families and may even start one of our own. We will miss the amazing city of Pittsburgh and all our friends. We are so grateful for all the memories!
Photography: Rich Sofranko