Rachel Foster began her dance journey with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School at the age of 12. Over the years, she worked hard to advance through the levels of the school and eventually was hired into the professional company by former PBT Artistic Director Patricia Wilde. After a couple seasons at PBT, she accepted a position with Pacific Northwest Ballet where she rose to the rank of principal dancer and remained for the rest of her 22 year professional career. Rachel attributes much of her strength as a dancer to her training with PBT School.
PBT School recently caught up with Rachel, now settling into her new role as a teacher, about her experiences throughout her career and how her training at PBT influenced them. Listen to the conversation below!
I feel like a lot of my experience with the school, with having such a well rounded training, was what really helped me. When I first went to Pacific Northwest Ballet [contemporary] was something new that they started to bring in and I feel like I had experience in that that others didn’t.
Cover Photo by Angela Sterling
James Gilmer has lived in many cities across the United States throughout his ballet career, but it all began in Pittsburgh. Beginning at the age of eight, James trained with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School until he graduated at 18. Since then, James has been taking the lessons he learned from the School, such as young mens classes with Alan Obuzor and Pre-professional classes with Janet Popeleski, to make his mark in professional companies.
PBT School recently caught up with James, now a dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, about his experiences at PBT and the career that followed. Listen to the conversation below!
I’ve always praised the instruction and the technique that I gained [at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School]. I think back on that stuff all the time whenever I’m in a professional setting. Even if it just takes a little minute to adjust something it’s like, oh wow, I’ve been thinking about that particular thing for years because of somebody at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.
Cover Photo by Steven Vandervelden
Pittsburgh native Elenora Morris began her training with PBT School in 2003 as a Level 1 student and honed her skills over 10 years in the School, graduating as a full-time high school student in 2013. Her decade at PBT helped shape her career, through yearly Nutcracker performances, themed modern classes with PBT faculty and advice that sticks with her to this day – “if you think your knee is straight, think again!”
PBT School recently spoke to Elenora, now a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, about her career and her time at PBT. See the interview below!
Wherever I go, I’m grateful for the great training and performing experience I got right in my hometown at PBT, and I always look forward to popping into the studio when I’m home and reconnecting with everyone.
Cover Photos by Natascha Rydvald and Franz Siegert
You may recognize Jonathan Breight from the stage, where he performs alongside fellow Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company dancers. Jonathan, however, fills many roles at PBT. Apart from his professional dance career, he dedicates time instructing the Pre-ballet Boys classes in the Children’s Division and, just this fall, he became an instructor for Intermediate Ballet in the Community Division.
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Forest Hills
Family: “My Father, Rev. Ronald M. Breight, or ‘The Good Reverend’ as we like to call him, is the Pastor of Christ Lutheran Forest Hills. My Mother, Linda Breight, is a teacher assistant at The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. I have one older and two younger brothers: Miguel, David and Timothy. My older brother, Miguel, is a specialist in the U.S. Army. David attends The Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf and enjoys competing in the Special Olympics. My youngest brother, Timothy, attends Woodland Hills High school and loves fishing with Dad. Our dogs Bailey and Bella add to the excitement of the house.”
Favorite food: “My favorite food is spaghetti with Alfredo sauce and garlic shrimp.”
Favorite musician/song: “It depends on the day – my music taste is always changing – but today I would say anything “Phantom of the Opera!” Yesterday I would have said Barrette Sisters, but tomorrow might be Rhianna. However, people who know me can tell you I NEVER know the right lyrics to songs, but can make them up as I go!”
Favorite form of exercise: “Pilates with Ann Corrado, our amazing instructor, or TRX with Kristy Boyle!”
Favorite ballet position: “It not a position as much as a step, but I love tour de force into a double soté basque. You feel like you’re just taking up the whole studio and flying through the air!”
How long have you been instructing dance classes?
“I started by assisting with the Pre-ballet Boys classes in 2015 with Andre Reyes. Then in 2017 added Pre-ballet, Preparatory and Level 1 classes. In 2018 I began subbing for open ballet classes at the beginning, intermediate and advanced levels. Now in 2019, I teach regularly on Tuesday for the Intermediate Ballet class.”
How do you find time to balance a professional career and teaching?
“[PBT School Co-directors] Margie [Grunvig] and Dennis [Marshall] are wonderful to work for. They understand that I have a passion for both dancing and teaching and work to schedule teaching hours around the company schedule.”
What’s is the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet instructor?
“I think for me, the most fulfilling part is seeing how much fun a challenging class can be – not only for them, but for myself teaching it as well. The joke about my class is that I teach a ‘ballet boot camp’ class.”
What are some of your goals as an instructor for Intermediate Ballet?
“I want for them all, each class, to leave feeling completely worn out and exhausted as if they have pushed themselves so far they couldn’t do another step.”
What advice would you give someone who wants to start ballet as an adult?
“Take it all one day at a time, because great things come slowly. A great dancer/mentor once told me when I was a student that, ‘every flower blooms at a different time for different lengths of time, as do beautiful ballet dancers.'”
What makes PBT a great place to practice ballet?
“PBT as an organization works to make the experience – from the moment you’re walking in the door to the moment you are walking out – a wonderful, well-thought-out experience that you want to experience over and over again! With great staff, great studios, beautiful accompaniment, wonderful changing area, ample parking – the list goes on with how great PBT makes the entire time that someone spends here.”
Jamie Murphy does it all. Some days, she’s instructing contemporary and jazz classes to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Student, Pre-professional and Community Division students, and working for PBT’s education department teaching accessibility classes within the Pittsburgh community. Others, she’s a performer, finding time to shine in the spotlight herself with dance companies around the region. Her enthusiasm and passion for dance make an impact on everyone she comes across. Get to know Jamie – who has been a part of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School family for 12 years – and check out her contemporary classes for ages 14+ on mindbody.com.
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Family: “My awesome parents, Kathy and James, live in Ohio and my older sister and fellow modern dancer lives in Philadelphia.”
Hobbies: “I love crafting, baking, going to arts events and catching up with friends over a glass of wine!”
Favorite food: “Potatoes of any kind!”
Favorite musician/song: “I’ve been a hardcore Elvis fan since the age of 3.”
Favorite form of exercise: “Yoga and dance classes.”
Favorite music genre to dance to: “Anything with a good beat really! I love having an eclectic playlist in class.”
How long have you been instructing dance classes?
“I have been teaching for 14 years. This is my twelfth year with PBT teaching jazz, modern and contemporary in the school, as well as educational outreach and accessibility classes for our education department the past eight years.”
How do you find time to balance a professional career and teaching?
“This can be tricky sometimes. Because I teach a lot, sometimes it is hard for me to take classes for myself. However, I am very lucky to have incredibly supportive directors (Margie Grundvig and Kati Gigler) who allow me the space and time to keep rehearsing, performing and creating outside of PBT.”
Describe your career “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.
“I can’t remember a time where dance wasn’t one of the most important parts of my life. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, because it always just felt like dance was in my future. I will say that I didn’t always intend to become a teacher. After I graduated from Point Park University, I was dancing with a few Pittsburgh-based companies and decided to try teaching to supplement my income. I really unexpectedly grew to love teaching and watching young dancers grow. It was my second year at PBT that really sealed the deal of me wanting to be an educator. It was the first time that I was part of a young dancers “a-ha moment” and I think I was more excited than them about their success.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a dance instructor?
“I really think that my favorite part of being a teacher is watching the students experience new parts of themselves. For example, with the younger students, you see pure joy when watching them stick a pirouette for the first time. Getting to be there to witness their successes is a feeling like nothing else. With the older students, it’s watching the moment they turn from students into artists. Some of the students at PBT, I have had the chance to work with from Level 2 through the grad program. You watch them develop their skills over the years and then there is this beautiful moment where you can see all of that hard work turn into artistry. Getting to be a part of that is pretty awesome.”
What advice would you give someone who wants to try contemporary dance as an adult?
“DO IT!! If you have an interest in something, give it a shot! Contemporary dance really allows you to be expressive and connect to your emotions. You might discover parts of yourself you never knew existed while in the dance studio!”
What are the advantages of taking dance as an adult?
“While, of course, dance provides benefits to one’s health and fitness, I think the biggest advantages are having fun and expressing yourself. My community classes at PBT are always one of the highlights of my week, mostly due to the fact that the people that come are there to have fun and experience something for themselves. We get so busy with our everyday lives and all of the heaviness that the world throws at us. I believe that dance can give us a moment of escape and freedom to experience joy.”
What makes PBT a great place to dance?
“A combination of things makes PBT a great place to dance. We are so lucky to have a great facility that is big enough to offer so many experiences for so many people. Since I started 12 years ago, the Community Division has grown so much with so many different types of classes to choose from. I also love that PBT is making a huge effort to be inclusive by offering so many accessible classes for differently-abled bodies and people with neurodiversities. On top of all of that, I think it is really awesome that PBT is able to offer so many classes with live accompaniment. Whether it is percussion or piano, the students are so lucky to have the opportunity to learn in an environment with live musicians. I’m so proud to be on staff at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.”
You may recognize Kristy Boyle from a Pilates or barre fitness open division class at PBT Studios. What you may not know is that she is PBT School’s dance and fitness programs manager. She puts in the work during class and behind the scenes every day managing dance and fitness programs for the hundreds of Community Division members who walk through PBT’s doors weekly. Get to know Kristy here, and check out the class schedule on MindBody.com to meet her in person!
Family: I have one sister and an extremely large extended family. I am one of 21 cousins on my dad’s side alone!
Hobbies: Swimming, paddle boarding and hiking in the summer, skiing in the winter. I am not much of a cook, but I do love to try new local restaurants. In my down time I like to read and catch up on sleep.
Favorite food: Shrimp tacos
Favorite musician/song: Anything Justin Timberlake
Favorite form of exercise to teach: It’s a tie between Barre Fitness and TRX
Favorite form of exercise to do: Strength training
Favorite Pilates stretch/position: I love the side leg series!
How long have you been instructing dance and fitness classes?
I started teaching in college at Slippery Rock University.
Describe your career “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.
I always knew that I wanted to help people and to teach in some capacity. Dance has been a constant in my life since I was 3 years old, so it only seemed natural to combine my love of dance with teaching and helping people to meet their health and wellness goals.
What are some of your goals as Manager of Dance & Fitness Programs?
My goal when I took on the position was to expand on the current class schedule, offer a wider variety of classes that complemented our already popular ballet classes, and to give Pittsburgh the opportunity to train like a dancer. The Community Division continues to multiply in attendance every year, and I want to continue to expand our teaching staff and to bring in a wider range of clientele.
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a fitness and dancer instructor?
I had a dance professor in college who said, “If you can walk, you can dance.” That quote has stuck with me ever since and is perfectly applicable for my role with PBT in the way that we open our doors to everyone to dance and move! I also feel most fulfilled in experiencing the positive results of my students and clients. Whether it be an adult client who is reaching their fitness goals and feels happier and stronger or my Pre-professional students who are working to improve their technique and keep their bodies injury free through cross-training, I get to see the positive outcomes of so many different people here.
What advice would you give someone who wants to be a fitness and dance instructor?
Educate yourself. Take the time to receive the correct training and certifications. Always continue to grow as an instructor by attempting to read everything that you can about the ever changing industry.
What are the advantages of group classes? How about private personal training sessions?
Group classes give you a welcoming community atmosphere to keep you motivated to exercise while you are being led by a top notch instructor. If you have a personal training session scheduled, you know that your trainer is going to hold you accountable for showing up and making the most of your workout time. The exercises will be catered around your goals and will give you exactly what you need to improve.
What makes PBT a great place to sweat?
The Community Division gives you so many options! And you do not have to be a dancer! PBT has high quality, dedicated staff who will provide quality instruction. Bonus: you get to take class in the same beautiful studios that our professional company rehearses in!
Summer may be nearing its end, but there are plenty of long, sun-drenched days remaining. This means there is still plenty of time to fit dance into your kid’s list of fun, engaging summer activities!
“Dancing in the summer is a wonderful opportunity for students to come and enjoy training without the stress of school and their year-round schedules,” Kaila Lewis, PBT School Children’s Division coordinator, says. “Summer is a great time to clean up the steps students already have learned and it is also a great time to learn something new.”
Summer classes and workshops at PBT School are a special treat, but they are also a tool for consistency and growth.
“Three months is a long time to go without dancing,” Lewis says. “Keeping the body moving is so important for a young dancer. The body not only has positions and steps to remember, but the muscles have to remember as well.”
Shorter workshops can be a great way for young dancers to try new and different things while still incorporating some consistency into their dance training over their summer break. This year, PBT School is hosting Beauty and the Beast and Ella Bella Ballerina workshops at PBT Studios. Ballet is a storytelling art, and what better stories to tell than classic fairy-tales!
For students ages 3-7, the Ella Bella Ballerina workshop is a unique blend of building ballet technique foundations and exploring the stories behind classic ballets like The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. This beloved children’s book series-turned-workshop brings fairy-tale ballets to life for budding dancers, while they enjoy special summer perks not always available during the school year, like visiting the costume shop or peeking into a PBT company class.
The Beauty and the Beast workshop is available for students 8-10 years old. This special story ballet workshop can help kids become more confident dancers and learn from one another. Dance is a wonderful way for kids to grow and explore their imagination, creativity and curiosity.
“The workshops are a tremendous way for our teachers to get to know these young dancers’ personalities while working on storytelling and technique,” PBT School Marjorie Grundvig, co-director of PBT School, says.
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.”
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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.”