Although PBT School pianist Ellen Gozion is well-known at PBT for her classical accompaniment, she will travel to New York City this month for a major musical accomplishment of a completely different genre – American folk music.
When she’s not in the studio accompanying PBT School ballet classes, Gozion specializes in folk singing and banjo playing, and most recently teamed up with Chatham Baroque as a guest musician for the group’s American Music series. In a unique cross-over collaboration, the traditionally classical Chatham Baroque chose to feature Appalachian music for the series and for the musicians’ American Music Abroad bid.
More than 300 U.S. ensembles representing a wide array of musical genres applied for the American Music Abroad live auditions. Gozion and Chatham Baroque are among only 40 finalists chosen for the live auditions. At the end of the live audition round, 10 ensembles and two alternate ensembles will be selected for a month-long international tour with the American Music Abroad program, which sends American roots music groups of diverse genres to more than 40 countries to present concerts, performances with local musicians, workshops and other projects to engage diverse audiences.
Despite the stylistic differences between classical and folk music, dance remains the common link between Gozion’s primary musical passions. As a music student at The University of North Carolina Greensboro, Gozion first discovered her affinity for folk through dance.
“I found out about it through dancing when I was in my 20s and that’s how I got into playing for folk dance,” Gozion said. “For me, [folk and classical music] serve different purposes in a way. The folk is very social…music doesn’t stand alone, it always accompanies an event…and classical music tends to be a more inward, personal experience for the audience. It’s powerful in a different way,”
At the American Music Abroad live audition round in New York City, Gozion and Chatham Baroque will perform some of their own musical repertoire and will also be challenged to arrange a new variation combining folk tunes from Turkey, China and Russia. Gozion will also lead a folk dance lesson as an example of a community engagement program to offer abroad.
“I am excited that we were chosen…“I think it would be really exciting to travel,” Gozion said. “We’re trying to preserve this folk tradition in a modern era.”
While an incoming class of 43 graduate program dancers begin a new PBT School year, this September finds a trio of recent alumni rehearsing for their main stage debut as PBT’s newest company dancers. With PBT’s 2012-2013 Season premiere approaching, PBT dancers Casey Taylor, Corey Bourbonniere and JoAnna Schmidt reflect on their recent transition from student to professional.
Path to PBT
As a Pittsburgh native and Fox Chapel Area High School graduate, the reputation of PBT School made it a natural fit for Casey to take her ballet training to the next level. “I grew up here,” she said, adding that she definitely feels a lot of hometown pride as a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Originally from Rhode Island, Corey first experienced PBT School through the Intensive Summer Program, where he was inspired by the company dancers and acclaimed faculty members. “It was the best class I had ever taken,” he said of his ISP audition with PBT. “The challenge (of ballet) for me is something I love.”
Like Corey, JoAnna came to PBT from out of state following an inspirational encounter with PBT Ballet Mistress Marianna Tcherkassky at the World Ballet Competition job fair in her home state of Florida. There, JoAnna received the affirmation she needed to pursue ballet training over college. “She really helped me believe in myself and believe that I had a shot at doing this,” she said
Preparing for Professionalism
Since enrolling in PBT School, the three students built the strength, skill and experience necessary to bridge from student to professional.
“Coming up through the school from the beginning, I had a huge range of teachers,” Casey said. “It was a very well-rounded experience for me to get different backgrounds of technique.”
For JoAnna, the professionalism of the program and the opportunities it provided to interact with the company dancers distinguished her PBT School experience. “I gained so much strength and stamina in the graduate program. I think that was definitely a huge preparation for me.”
As a PBT School student, Corey danced alongside the company in nine season productions, including Uncommon at the August Wilson Center. “I had a big breakthrough when I got to perform (Mark Morris’) Maelstrom. It almost felt like an audition to me,” he said, adding that the live music and intimate venue created one of his most memorable onstage experiences.
From Student to Professional
Although this season marks their first as full company members, it won’t be the first time the three have performed alongside the company. This time, however, it will be different. For the three dancers, it’s the fruition of a dream that was many years in the making.
“I was just in awe of all of (the company dancers), and now I get to be one of them,” Casey said.
“As soon as I started I knew that I wanted to take it professionally,” said Corey of starting ballet training at age 14.
JoAnna experienced a similar sensation since starting ballet class at age 7. “I never had any other career in mind even from the start. I always wanted to be a ballet dancer,” she said.
Dancers with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre headed back to the studio a bit sooner this summer to prepare for a pre-season performance, but it won’t take place at the Benedum, Byham or any of the troupe’s other regular venues.
This week, the company will present a mixed repertoire program in Israel at the 25th annual Karmiel Dance Festival, which will feature about 5,000 dancers from across the world. The trip will mark the first time PBT has toured overseas in nearly 20 years.
“We’re very excited about it,” artistic director Terrence Orr said.