PBT joined forces with Dance Theatre of Harlem for a joint performance at the August Wilson Cultural Center – marking PBT’s first main-stage performance collaboration with another professional ballet company. In addition to seven mixed repertory performances, the collaboration included 27 educational events that celebrated diversity in dance and connected over 1,000 children, students and community members with PBT and DTH artists.
PBT created its Community Youth Scholarship program to support talented students from families with financial need. Now in its sixth year, the program aims to increase early exposure and access to ballet training and focuses on students from ages 5 to 8 – a pivotal stage to begin classical ballet training.
Terrence S. Orr, former American Ballet Theatre (ABT) principal dancer and ballet master, succeeded Patricia Wilde as artistic director.
As she marked 15 years of leadership, Wilde approached Orr when she decided to retire. Orr had visited the company in the ‘80s to set Rodeo and other works from the ABT repertory. In 1997, he returned to Pittsburgh as artistic director. A former ABT principal dancer, Orr brought a vision shaped by some of the nation’s leading ballet companies and a great gift for storytelling. He continued building the repertoire with new full-length story ballets, including a new Pittsburgh-inspired The Nutcracker, as well as commissions and artistic collaborations, like the Indigo in Motion program, inspired by Pittsburgh’s rich jazz roots.
PBT launched a series of adaptive dance classes designed for students with autism spectrum disorders, sensory sensitivities and other special needs. The ongoing classes feature modified choreography and ballet class staples, including live music, barre and center exercises.
PBT became the first professional ballet company in the country to produce a sensory-friendly performance of The Nutcracker designed for people with autism spectrum disorders, sensory sensitivities and other special needs. PBT has since produced sensory-friendly performances of Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast, and sensory-friendly performances remain an annual tradition.
PBT acquired and renovated the former St. John’s Rectory in Lawrenceville to create Byham House, a residence for out-of-state and international high school students who come to Pittsburgh to train fulltime in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division.
PBT premiered Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr’s Pittsburgh-inspired imagining of The Nutcracker, a $2.5 million production featuring brand new choreography, concept and scenery inspired by the city’s historic places and people.
PBT began performing at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. That year’s programming included the world premiere of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s acclaimed Tabula Rasa.
Loti Falk retired as executive director.
PBT made its New York City debut at the Lehman College Center for the Performing Arts with a program including Ruth Page’s The Merry Widow and Patrick Frantz’s Portraits.
The company closed its first decade with a promising forecast for the future: the establishment of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School with class offerings for beginning, intermediate and advanced dancers.
Patrick Franz, a former Paris Opera Ballet dancer, became artistic director, a position he held until 1982. The growing company’s budget topped $1 million and its subscriber base reached 4,000.
By the late ‘70s, PBT had become independent of Point Park College and experienced its first artistic transition. When Petrov stepped down in 1977 to focus on the Point Park program, John Gilpin, of London’s Festival Ballet, took over for a brief tenure as artistic director.
In 1971, Loti and Leon Falk purchased PBT’s first studio space on Boulevard of the Allies, where the company remained until 1984.
Following the company’s 1969 debut at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, PBT presented and sold out its inaugural 1970-71 subscription season, featuring founding Artistic Director Nicolas Petrov’s The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, at the Syria Mosque. In these formative years, the founders flexed their connections in the elite circles of American ballet to bring stars like Natalia Makarova, Edward Villella and Violette Verdy to guest star in PBT productions. Behind the scenes, luminaries like Leonide Massine and Frederic Franklin came to Pittsburgh to stage ballets, instruct master classes and help shape the company’s emerging artistic voice.