Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has signed four new dancers to the company roster for PBT’s 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-2020, which opens Oct. 25-27, with “Giselle” with the PBT Orchestra.
PBT School graduate students Allison Durand, of Charleston, South Carolina, and Jack Hawn, of Detroit, Michigan, will both join the company as apprentices for the 2019-2020 Season. Two students of Pacific Northwest Ballet School, Grace Rookstool, of Whidbey Island, Washington and Sam DerGregorian, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will also join PBT as apprentices.
Durand and Hawn will make their final performances as students in the school’s two year-end performances: Pre-Professional Showcases, May 17-20, at Point Park University, and Spring Performance 2019, May 24-25, at the Byham Theater.
In other roster changes for the 2019-2020 Season, dancers Marisa Grywalski, of Columbus, Ohio, and Corey Bourbonniere of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, were promoted to soloists. Single ticket sales for “Giselle” and other 50th Anniversary Season productions open Aug. 6, at www.pbt.org, 412-456-6666 or the Box Office at Theater Square. Tickets start at $28. Subscription packages, starting at $81, are available now by visiting www.pbt.org or calling 412-454-9107.
About the New Dancers
Sam DerGregorian is from Albuquerque, New Mexico. He started dancing at age 9 with La Mesa Dance Academy, and at age 16 he was a member of the New Mexico Ballet Company. While at NMBC, he performed in productions including “The Nutcracker” and “The Wizard of Oz.” He attended summer courses at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, Ballet Chicago, Miami City Ballet School and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. He was invited to join the PNBS Professional Division, where he trained for two years. While at PNB he performed with the company, including productions of George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “The Sleeping Beauty.” With the school, he performed in productions including original works, Jerome Robbins’ “Fanfare,” “Pinocchio” and “Snow White.”
Allison Durand, originally from Charleston, South Carolina, has trained in PBT’s Graduate Program and Intensive Summer Programs since 2016. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she studied with Michael and Olga Wise of Robert Ivey Ballet Academy; Charleston County School of the Arts; Amanda Neikirk; and Carroll Thompson. She also attended the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive. She has performed in “Giselle,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Romeo and Juliet,” George Balanchine’s “Rubies,” “The Great Gatsby” and “The Nutcracker” with PBT, and has choreographed numerous works on fellow students during her time in the grad program.
Jack Hawn received his early training near his hometown of Detroit, Michigan before joining the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School in 2012. Since then, he has performed in PBT productions such as “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Le Corsaire,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Nutcracker,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Great Gatsby.” Additionally, Jack has composed original music for two PBT School ballets: “Dovetail” and “Gust.”
Grace Rookstool was born and raised on Whidbey Island, Washington. Her love of ballet began watching her older sisters dance at local studios on the island. She joined them at age 3, and began her classical ballet training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle when she was 8 years old. She spent the next eight years in the Student Division and another two years completing the Professional Division Program. She has had the opportunity to dance with the company in many productions, including “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” During her time in the PD Division, she was selected for an exchange program with Dresden Semperoper Ballett where she performed as a guest apprentice in “La Bayadère.”
Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr recruited Colin McCaslin, of Vineland, New Jersey, from PBT School’s full-time high school program, where he trained for two years. Before joining PBT School, McCaslin trained with the Atlantic City Ballet School under Phyllis Papa and in Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive. He has performed with PBT in The Nutcracker and West Side Story Suite and with Atlantic City Ballet in Carmen and Swan Lake. His repertoire also includes excerpts from Giselle, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Paquita and Western Symphony. Get to know Colin here.
Hometown: Vineland, NJ
Family: “I come from a family of 13, two of whom were adopted from China. My parents are pretty much the most selfless people you’d ever meet; they’ve always done their best to make sure I could do what I loved.”
Pre-performance ritual: “I usually just listen to music and prepare myself mentally.”
Hobbies: “I don’t really have too many hobbies, but hanging out with the people I love and a good cup of coffee are two of my favorite things.”
Favorite food: “Salmon (if done well), but I also love pizza, sausage and sushi.”
Favorite musician: Paul McCartney
Ultimate dream role: Basilio in Don Quixote
Favorite role to date: “I had a lot of fun performing the first movement of Western Symphony, but I also loved performing Paquita (in PBT School’s Pre-professional Showcases 2018).”
How do you think you’ve grown during your time in the PBT School Pre-professional Division? How has it prepared you for a professional ballet career?
“I feel that I’ve established a strong foundation as well as been given many challenging opportunities from which I can continue to learn and grow. I think in a lot of ways the many rehearsals throughout the day are not unlike that of a company schedule. The dynamic of the Pre-professional Division really does a great job of preparing dancers for a professional career. I feel I’ve become a lot stronger and more confident having been given so many incredible opportunities.”
Describe your Ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this is what you wanted to do professionally.
“I never really had one moment, but every time I go on stage I’m reminded of why and how much I love this art form.”
What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?
“Just to keep on working; everything can always be better.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?
“I think the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer is bowing after a good performance, knowing that you gave it your all.”
What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?
“I’m definitely looking forward to The Great Gatsby.”
If I weren’t a ballet dancer…”I think I’d be an attorney.”
See all four dancers on stage this weekend in Spring Performance 2018, their final performance with PBT School! Snag seats here.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has signed four more dancers to the company roster for the 2018-2019 Season, which opens Oct. 26-28, with Mozart in Motion with the PBT Orchestra.
Orr recruited the following dancers from PBT School’s Pre-professional Division: Jonathan Breight, of Pittsburgh; Colin McCaslin of Vineland, New Jersey; Yu-Chieh Chao of Pingtung, Taiwan; and Caitlyn Mendicino of Pittsburgh. All four dancers will join the company as apprentices.
Earlier this season, Orr announced the hire of PBT School graduate students Christian García Campos, of Puebla, Mexico, and Tommie Kesten, of Pittsburgh, who also will join the company as apprentices for the 2018-2019 Season.
In total, Orr has hired six dancers from PBT School’s Pre-professional Division this year.
“The Pre-professional Division is where dancers begin making the transition from student to professional. At this stage, dancers are honing their performance skills, cultivating their individuality as artists and testing their technique in company repertoire,” Orr said. “It has been a pleasure to work closely with these dancers. They’ve stood out on stage in both student and professional performances, and they’ve proven their passion, not only for their art but for this company.”
PBT School’s Pre-professional Division prepares students for professional ballet careers with an intensive training schedule, extensive performance opportunities and high-quality repertoire. The program also serves as a powerful cultivation and recruiting tool for PBT’s company roster: More than half of PBT’s professional dancers are PBT School alumni.
The four new dancers, along with García Campos and Kesten, will make their final performance as students in the school’s Spring Performance 2018, May 25-26, at the Byham Theater.
Later, they’ll make their professional debuts at PBT’s free Ballet Under the Stars performance at 7 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19, at Hartwood Acres, followed by Mozart in Motion, the company’s main-stage season opener, Oct. 26-28, at the Benedum Center.
About the New Dancers
Pittsburgh native Jonathan Breight has trained in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division since 2013 — first as a full-time high school student and then as a Graduate student. Breight also has participated in PBT School’s Intensive Summer Program and in Point Park University’s International Summer Dance Program. Breight has performed in PBT productions of “West Side Story Suite,” “PBT: New Works,” “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “Alice in Wonderland” “Giselle” and “Beauty and The Beast.” He also teaches pre-ballet classes for PBT School’s Children’s Division and assists PBT’s education department with adaptive dance classes for students with special needs. He will perform in excerpts from George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” and in PBT Principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano’s “The Symphony” among other works at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
A native of Pingtung, Taiwan, Chao has trained in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division as a full-time high school student since 2015. Prior to PBT School, he trained with the Taipei National University of Arts. Chao has performed in PBT productions of “The Nutcracker,” “PBT: New Works” and “West Side Story Suite” and in PBT School performances of “Etudes” and the Bluebird pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty.” He will perform in “Graduation Ball” and excerpts from “Western Symphony” among other works at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
Colin McCaslin, of Vineland, New Jersey, has trained for two year’s in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division as a member of the full-time high school program. Before joining PBT School, McCaslin trained with the Atlantic City Ballet School under Phyllis Papa and in Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive. He has performed with PBT in “The Nutcracker” and “West Side Story Suite” and with Atlantic City Ballet in “Carmen” and “Swan Lake.” His repertoire also includes excerpts from “Giselle,” “La Sylphide,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and “Don Quixote.” McCaslin will perform in “Graduation Ball” as well as excerpts from “Paquita” and “Western Symphony” at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
Pittsburgh native Caitlyn Mendicino has trained in PBT School’s Graduate Program since 2016. She began ballet classes at PBT at age 4 and continued her training in Pittsburgh with Nicolas Petrov, PBT’s founding artistic director, and Mansur Kamelatdinov in 2007. She continued at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh and went on to graduate from North Carolina School of the Arts. She danced as an apprentice with Charlotte Ballet for two years before joining the PBT School Graduate Program. She also has completed summer intensives at American Ballet Theatre, Ballet Austin and Boston Ballet among others. Mendicino has performed in PBT productions of “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “Dracula,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Giselle.” Her repertoire also includes “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Le Corsaire,” and Balanchine’s “Valse Fantasie” and “The Four Temperaments.” Mendicino will perform in excerpts from “Swan Lake” and “Western Symphony” at PBT School’s Spring Performance 2018.
Learn about fellow PBT School graduates and incoming company dancers, Christian García Campos and Tommie Kesten, here.
The launch of PBT School’s annual Intensive Summer Program quickly brings PBT to life during the company’s quiet summer break. Students ages 12-22 flow out into the hallways and lounges during their breaks; stretching, talking, and relaxing in their downtime. They practice six days a week, spending over 180 hours in the studio. But, in talking to 10 of these 225 students you wouldn’t realize the intensity of their schedule unless you asked. Their passion out shined any fatigue they may have felt as they described some of their biggest challenges and lessons from the past five weeks.
Hometown: Charleston, SC
“Just the incredible amount of progress you can see in yourself and in other people in only five weeks is really neat. I would say probably one of the biggest challenges is being self critical and learning to work in a positive way… not being afraid of failing and focusing on the possibilities of what you can do, and really allowing yourself to learn what you can from teachers, because you can’t really learn anything if you’re afraid of failing.”
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD
“The teachers care for the students’ futures, not just right in the present working on their technique. When I get corrections from certain teachers or see others corrections given, it’s more ‘when you’re twenty you’re going to have to be able to do this in a company.’ It’s more future-oriented.”
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Level: Men 2B
“Coming to ISP made me realize that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought. I used to think, ‘Oh that role isn’t for me’ or, ‘That variation isn’t something that I feel comfortable doing.’ But, with working with, say Christopher (Budzynski) or Li Chou (Cheng), you get crossover with the company, and I figured out that I actually can achieve those variations, those roles, and bring them energy.”
Hometown: Akron, OH
“(The teachers) are all amazingly qualified and they care; you can really see. They give us corrections and they want us to improve. All of the teachers are very particular about their details, especially in the port de bras which is really nice, because I like Balanchine a lot so sometimes I lose the classical flowiness of my arms. They really pay attention to that, it’s something I can work on to have my positions where they need to be.”
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
“The most surprising thing for me is how the American dancers helped me every day and how they talked to me. They were really friendly.”
Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA
“The most changing thing for me was coming into class every day and being around a group of kids where everyone is very serious and dedicated…I would say the biggest challenge is adapting to each teacher and remembering specific things they liked compared to other teachers.”
Hometown: Austin, TX
Level: Men 2B
“Taking care of myself is probably a big one – my body and how I’m feeding myself especially. It’s been interesting figuring out how to get through an 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. day.”
Hometown: Denver, CO
“Just the experience. I think all the excursions are so fun. And the classes. I’ve never taken jazz or contemporary before; I just do strictly ballet, but they’re so fun and I think I want to do more of it now. Introduction to that has been pretty awesome.”
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Level: Men 1
“Holding your position. I make sure when the teacher gives me a correction that I try to do that as much as I can and remember to hold my arm in a special way…I had my first official pas de deux class here and it was fun, though kind of hard.”
Hometown: Puebla, Mexico
Level: Men 2
“I’ve been here since the (school) year for the grad program. But for the summer I think I’m getting in better shape, having all-day technique classes – every day.”
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invites children from ages 5-8 to audition on Saturday, Aug. 5, for the opportunity to receive a full or partial scholarship to study ballet during the 2017-2018 school year. Registration begins at 1 p.m. with auditions following from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. at PBT Studios in the Strip District, 2900 Liberty Ave.
As part of its Community Youth Scholarship program, PBT will be awarding up to five full and three partial scholarships for children to train in its Children’s Division. Although the program focuses on early exposure, PBT commits to funding scholarship recipients’ training all the way
through the school’s Pre-professional Division if they choose to pursue it long term.
PBT created the scholarship program in June 2013 to make the school, company – and art form – more widely accessible to students and families throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. In addition to talent and passion for dance, students must demonstrate financial need to be eligible
for scholarship funds.
At the audition, students will take a basic dance class instructed by PBT School Children’s and Student division faculty members. No previous dance experience is required. Children must be 5 to 8 years of age by Sept. 1, and must qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch program or
meet similar requirements to be eligible for a scholarship. During the audition, PBT School will host an information session on PBT and the art of ballet for parents and family members.
“It’s really important to ignite the passion at a young age so they can take advantage of training and learning opportunities during these formative years,” said Marjorie Grundvig, PBT School co-director. “Some of these children could be our next generation of professional dancers. And
whether they choose ballet or a different career path, many will learn valuable skills from ballet that they’ll find helpful in other areas of their lives.”
The annual program aims to expose children to dance at an early age and make top-tier training accessible to talented students who demonstrate financial need. The program focuses on students from ages 5 to 8 – a pivotal stage to begin classical ballet training. Currently, 23 promising young students are receiving ballet training at PBT School through the Community Youth Scholarship Program.
By reducing potential barriers to training, these scholarship programs help widen the pool of talent that the company can attract to auditions, accept to its school and ultimately even recruit into the company, which is made up of 50 percent PBT School alumni.
The program is funded by an endowment fund from the Ladies Hospital Aid Society, among others, and by many individual donors who value the power of dance to enrich the lives of children.
To register for the audition, please complete the online registration form here. For questions, please contact Christina Salgado, director of education and community engagement, at 412-454-9105 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited. For full audition guidelines and program details, please visit www.pbt.org/youthscholarships.
Joining 225 elite dancers from more than 24 countries and 20 states, two Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Graduate Program students will compete in the final round of the 11th-annual World Ballet Competition (WBC) June 19-24, in Orlando, Florida. Pittsburgh dance fans can tune in to a live online broadcast of the competition by visiting worldballetcompetition.com and clicking “Watch Live.”
Japan natives Saki Tsuruta, who turns 20 on June 18, and Masanao Ito, 20, will perform the virtuosic grand pas de deux from the classical ballet Le Corsaire. This challenging showpiece takes the form of a dance for three in the full-length ballet, but is often staged as a duet for competition settings.
Tsuruta and Ito are full-time students in PBT School’s Graduate Program, a pre-professional training program for dancers who have graduated from high school and are preparing for professional ballet careers. More than half of PBT’s full-time company members trained in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division, and its alumni also have gone on to dance professionally with other U.S. and international companies. PBT Principal Dancer Yoshiaki Nakano, an alumni of the Graduate Program, took home a silver medal from the WBC in 2010.
Judged by major international dance masters and artistic directors, the WBC draws aspiring young dancers, of ages 9 to 24, from around the world to compete for more than $150,000 in cash, scholarship awards, job contracts and dance merchandise. All dancers were pre-selected through a rigorous video audition process and will be competing in the categories of Soloist, Pas de Deux, Ensemble and Choreography. Prizes include the $10,000 Grand Prix award, which is open to all categories. Tsuruta and Ito will compete in the pre-professional Pas de Deux category.
The week-long event invites audience members for each day of the competition and is also broadcast live online worldwide (except for the gala performance). Each day’s livestream begins with a pre-show broadcast, which gives viewers interview and backstage access. The competition’s electronic scoring system also shares results with the audience in real time.
Since 2007, the WBC has drawn elite dancers representing more than 65 countries. Over the past ten events, competitors earned more than $1.5 million dollars in scholarship awards, cash prizes, job contracts, and dance merchandise, and 9 million video views have been generated online. Since its inauguration, the WBC has helped launch the professional careers of previous competitors now affiliated with prestigious ballet companies in five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
The event’s concluding Gala Performance on June 24, will feature winning competitors and internationally recognized professional dancers, including New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht.
The WBC is presented by the Central Florida Ballet and funded in part by the Orange County Government through the Arts & Cultural Affairs Program, sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of Arts and Culture and the State of Florida, and supported by the United Arts of Central Florida.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a group of ballet dancers ducked into the shell of an abandoned Strip District building for an impromptu photo shoot. Like the greenery sprouting between the slabs of concrete, the dancers made this unlikely spot their studio for a few hours, striking pose after pose against the graffitied cement walls.
Behind the lens was someone with an eye for a good location: 20-year-old Emily Northrop, who’d noticed the wide-open space, the light streaming through the steel frame and the chance to juxtapose the gritty space with graceful dancers.
But she also brought something even more important to the table: an innate sense of timing. Northrop, along with her subjects, is a pre-professional dancer in PBT School’s Graduate Program.
It’s no small task to translate the dynamism of dance to a still photograph. In dance photography, much depends on the timing. It’s the key to catching a fully extended arabesque or a grand jeté at the pinnacle of its arc.
So it’s no surprise that many successful dance photographers, like Northrop’s role model Rachel Neville, are former dancers. It’s essential for capturing both the energy and the technique at their peak.
A Florida native, Northrop grew up in Seattle and started dancing around age 10. She trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet through high school, where she took her first photography class, and just finished her second year in PBT School’s Graduate Program.
“I think I really enjoy how you see your hard work pay off,” Northrop said of her love for ballet. “It’s a great way to express yourself and work through feelings. When I have stressful stuff going on in my life, when I dance it just completely erases all of the stress.”
Over the past year, Northrop began merging her two artistic passions. She saved up to buy a camera and started heading to photography classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers after ballet each day.
She started her practice with portraits.
“I like to do portraits that have meaning behind them. They’re not just faces, they have an important message to say.”
Around the New Year, she began experimenting with dance – and that elusive ability to effectively freeze motion into one frame.
“Being a dancer helps immensely,” Northrop said. “When I’m taking the photos I can feel the timing in my body. Knowing the technique…you know how to turn the angles to make the dancers body look the best.”
Over time, and after taking a weekend workshop with Neville, whose photographs have been featured in Dance and Pointe magazines and by a variety of dance companies, Northrop began cultivating more detailed concepts for each shoot.
“I’ve been thinking more in the form of shapes rather than dance poses,” Northrop said. “For some of my dance photos, the ones that are a little bit more thought out…I thought of a word I wanted to express first and we did a bunch of different poses that expressed that word.”
For inspiration, Northrop scrolls through thousands of Pinterest photos, admiring other photographers’ work and filling her mind with ideas.
“I’ll look at thousands of images. When I go to bed it will be in my brain and when I wake up usually there will be some ideas there.”
She’s also taken inspiration from Neville’s ability to coax peak performance from her subjects and to conceptualize photos that put interesting dynamics at play.
“I noticed that (Neville) definitely pushes the dancers to their limits technique wise to get the best technical photo,” she said. “Now I am definitely more picky. I will give many, many corrections for one pose…to get the very best that they can make it look.”
Whether it’s dance, portraits or artistic side projects, Northrop showcases her work on Instagram under the handle @NorthropPhotography and on Facebook. One day she hopes to make it professional. For now, much like her 10-year pursuit of ballet, it’s all about the practice.
“I feel like the only way you get better is by practicing more and more. I really do love it.”
For more inspiring dance stories, plus exclusive ticket promos, sign up for the PBT e-news here.
Pittsburgh native Lexi Troianos is 15 years old and she already wears two very important hats: She’s a student in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Pre-professional Division’s full-time High School Program and a full-time freshman in high school. She’s been dancing since age three, and now has her sights set on a professional career in ballet. This week, she’s approaching the ballet world’s equivalent of “finals” — back-to-back performance weekends in downtown Pittsburgh. First up, she’ll perform May 19-21, in Pre-Professional Showcases at Point Park University. The following weekend, May 26-27, she’ll take the Byham Theater stage for Spring Performance, which features 200+ students of PBT School’s Student and Pre-professional divisions. For a dancer, performance opportunities are what it’s all about. It’s a chance to showcase all they’ve learned, to test their technique, to nurture their stage presence, to give themselves over to the pure joy of performing and being in the moment, just dancing. But as effortless as it appears onstage, these performances are the product of a lot of hard work. Compliments of Lexi, here’s a window into a day in the life of a serious ballet student:
5:15 a.m. // Wakeup Call
The day starts at dawn for Lexi, who lives with her family in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. It’s time to pack up her dance — and book — bags for a full day of studio and schoolwork. Lexi remains enrolled in the Seneca Valley School District, where she studies remotely and sometimes stops by the school for tests and other projects.
8-9:30 a.m. // Morning Ballet Class
Dancing starts bright and early with an 1.5 ballet class, a daily ritual for student and professional dancers alike. Lexi heads to her spot at the barre to stretch out and limber up before faculty member Christopher Budzynski, former PBT principal dancer, calls the class to order. Each class begins with barre combinations. Dancers warm up as they slowly loosen and lengthen their muscles, focusing on tendus, passes and plies. About 45 minutes in, dancers sideline the barres to make space for center combinations. In class, Lexi says she usually focused on specific aspects of her technique that feel off kilter that day. One day it could be turnout, and another the way she articulates her feet through each movement. “Overall, I think (class) makes you better as a dancer. It just warms you up for the rest of your day. I believe you can always get better.”
9:45-11 a.m. // Bluebird Rehearsal
Next up, Lexi changes into a teal rehearsal tutu to channel her inner fairy-tale princess. She and her partner, Kobe Courtney, are among three couples performing the sprightly “Bluebird Pas de Deux” from the classical ballet The Sleeping Beauty. Under Budzynski’s guidance, Lexi focuses on her technique and the joyful, yet regal presence required for the role. As she nears the final stretch of rehearsals for the spring performances, she says she’s focusing on “the fluidity of my arms and transitions…I think it was one of our better runs.”
11:30 a.m.-2:25 p.m. // Study Break
Now, Lexi heads to PBT’s upstairs cafe to switch gears. Laptops flip open, headphones pop in and Lexi and her fellow full-time high school students settle in for a few hours of schoolwork. Occasionally, students will bounce ideas off each other for a writing assignment or swap thoughts for other projects, but most home in on the task at hand. Today, Lexi is working on English and History assignments. Around noon, she’ll break for some lunch. On the menu for today is a chicken, parmesan and ranch wrap, a handful of almonds and some fruit. She’ll scatter in occasional snacks throughout the day to keep her energy up.
3-4:30 p.m. // Afternoon Ballet Class
After a few study hours, Lexi heads back down to the studio to warm up for her second ballet class of the day. The 1.5 class will prepare Lexi and her fellow student dancers for an afternoon runthrough of the program planned for this weekend’s Pre-Professional Showcases at the Benedum. Lexi is the zone at barre – hair tightly wound into a bun, wearing the customary black leotard and tights. As she prepares for center combinations, Lexi slides her feet into her pointe shoes, winds the ribbons around her ankles and sheds a layer of warm-ups. While Janet Popeleski explains the combinations, Lexi and her classmates seem to etch each movement into their muscle memory by sketching her instructions with an outstretched hand or foot. Class is essential to fine tuning technique and avoiding injury by gradually warming up the muscles until they’re supple enough for full-steam dancing.
4:30-6 p.m. // Pre-Professional Showcase Studio Runthrough
It’s time for a dry run of the works that these students have been rehearsing for months. While PBT School co-directors Marjorie Grundvig and Dennis Marshall watch on, Lexi runs through a handful of works, including the virtuosic Odalisque variation from Le Corsaire. These works pack serious classical technique, so Lexi and her fellow students must summon the stamina necessary to execute the challenging choreography with presence and personality. When they’re not dancing in a work, students sit cross legged at the back of the studio, cheering on their fellow dancers with bursts of applause for complex variations and technical feats. As she gets ready to dance each work, Lexi says, “I think about the music and the story behind it.”
6 p.m. // Drive Time
Dancing is done for the day, so Lexi head homes for some dinner and down time. But before bed, Lexi usually fits in some more schoolwork before catching up with her friends on Instagram and Facebook and winding down before bedtime.
10 p.m. // Bedtime
Now for some shuteye. Lexi will be back at it tomorrow morning, so it’s important to stay well-rested for the week ahead. During performance weeks, Lexi says, “You almost feel like you want to work even harder…you want to get perfect. Once you do get onstage, all of the nerves just go away, because you’re just dancing and it all flows out. There are no worries, nothing else in the world exists.”
This weekend, PBT School graduate students perform Balanchine’s sweeping Serenade – his first original ballet in America and a New York City Ballet signature to this day. Many love it above all his works, but few know students comprised the original cast.
During the creation of this work, unexpected rehearsal antics would take on profound effect. Balanchine originally choreographed Serenade in 1934 for students of the School of American Ballet in New York, soon after his arrival in America.
Set to Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48., it started as a lesson in stage technique, gradually incorporating unexpected rehearsal events into the choreography.
As the choreography unfolded over a series of evening classes, Balanchine improvised on the students that showed up and the situations that evolved. The first night, the class comprised 17 girls and no boys – sparking the ballet’s famous opening scene. When boys began to attend the class, he integrated them into the movement.
“One day, when all the girls rushed off the floor area we were using as a stage, one of the girls fell and began to cry. I told the pianist to keep on playing and kept this bit in the dance. Another day, one of the girls was late for class, so I left that in too,” Balanchine writes in his “101 Stories of the Great Ballets.”
Although it sprang from ordinary events, the work took on a more dramatic, transcendent aura as Balanchine readied it for the stage.
When the curtain rises, lines of ballerinas stand with arms and eyes raised, palms pressed toward stage right. This arresting image sets the tone for the rest of this work, which this weekend will feature 26 graduate dancers. As the dance unfolds before a deep blue background, this non-narrative work seems to take on a deeper meaning, suggesting a human story of love, elation and loss.
“Parts of the ballet seem to have a story: the apparently “pure” dance takes on a kind of plot. But this plot, inherent, in the score, contains many stories – it is many things to many listeners to the music, and many things to many people who see the ballet,” according to “101 Stories of the Great Ballets.”
For Balanchine, “There are simply dancers in motion to a beautiful piece of music. The only story is the music’s story, a serenade, a dance, if you like, in the light of the moon.”
Sources: The George Balanchine Trust and Balanchine and Mason. 101 Stories of the Great Ballets. Random House, 1989. Print.
See the rising talents of PBT School’s Graduate Program perform Serenade at Pre-Professional Showcases, May 13-15, at Point Park University, and Spring Performance 2016, May 20-21, at the Byham Theater. For tickets and details, click here.
Choreography by George Balanchine
© The George Balanchine Trust
From top to bottom:
Photo by: Rich Sofranko
Artists: PBT School students
Photo by: Aimee DiAndrea
Artist: PBT Soloist Gabrielle Thurlow