A Statement on Justice from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Criminal acts of violence, like those that killed George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks, highlight the insidious illness of racism in America. These are not isolated incidents. They are a gruesome reminder of the hate, discrimination and injustice that exists in our nation today. 

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre embraces diversity in our organization and stands in solidarity with Black artists, students, donors, board members, patrons, friends, neighbors and the entire Black community in the fight for equality. Black lives do matter. 

We are renewing our commitment to the pursuit of racial justice and equity. The work before us is crucial and PBT stands accountable to our local communities of color and to the international dance community to do this work. We dedicate ourselves to fostering an inspiring, accessible and equitable environment that embraces and gives voice to individuals of all backgrounds, races and life experiences. 

Actions 

As a member of the national Equity Project, PBT is committed to the advancement of racial equity in our company, our school and our entire organization. PBT’s Equity Transformation Team is finalizing a five-year plan of action to improve racial diversity and equity throughout PBT. We will continue to provide updates in the weeks, months and years to come. Below is a brief summary of some key initiatives:  

  • Programming PBT pledges to further highlight the art and voices of dancers and choreographers of color. Our partnership with the August Wilson African American Cultural Center has always been a centerpiece of our seasons, and we will continue to foster this ongoing commitment to presenting culturally relevant work at the AWAACC. BNY Mellon presents Here + Now, originally scheduled for March 2020 and rescheduled for April 2021, features the works of three Black choreographers, including PBT Artist in Residence Staycee Pearl, sponsored by Arts, Equity & Education Fund.
  • On Stage – The art we present on stage should be a reflection of the community we serve. Through long-term artistic planning and a focus on inclusivity in our company and choreography, we will bring to the stage works that embody the passion and diversity of Pittsburgh.
  • Hiring and Recruitment PBT will complete an overhaul of recruitment and hiring policies for administrative staff, artists and board members in the interest of increased equity, diversity and inclusion.
  • Training of Young Dancers PBT School’s Community Youth Scholarship, now in its seventh year, builds a pathway to training, performing and participation early in a student’s ballet education, and is renewed annually to support ambitious students through the entire PBT School program.
  • Dialogue PBT’s Equity Transformation Team is now meeting weekly for open discussions around our responsibility to our community and our art form, with over 75 PBT artists, staff, teachers and board members in attendance. The team has renewed our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in all facets of the organization.
  • Organizational Training – PBT artists, faculty and staff will participate in several organization-wide diversity, inclusion and antiracism sessions each year. The first of these sessions occurred in March, with a second planned with local experts for late June.
  • Community Engagement – PBT is committed to increasing the reach and impact of our education programs in the community, introducing students in the Pittsburgh area to the joy and self-expression of dance. To connect students in PBT’s community programs with PBT School, we will be introducing the Bridges program, intended to “bridge” participation in PBT’s community classes to enrollment at PBT School and further dance training.
  • Public Spaces & Promotional Materials – PBT will prioritize inclusivity in our public spaces – such as the lobby and parent waiting areas of PBT Studios – through artwork that reflects our diverse organization and community and greater efforts by staff to ensure students and families of all backgrounds feel welcome. We will incorporate the same inclusion into our marketing materials, choosing photos and words that echo this commitment to creating an environment that values diversity. 

Resources

We acknowledge the difficulty of the work to be done to dismantle racial inequity in dance and to uphold the values of equity, diversity and inclusion for all. We are committed to doing that work and keeping the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion open. The arts have always provided a pathway for change, expression and self-actualization. Art is not a distraction from the message of justice; it is an integral part of what moves and heals the world. We embrace this responsibility as we examine and expand our own role to advance racial equality in society.

 

Announcing Updates to PBT’s 2020-2021 Season & Three Company Promotions!

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) has announced updates to its upcoming 2020-2021 Season in response to programs rescheduled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis that forced the closure of non-essential businesses, including PBT and the Cultural Trust venues in which the company performs.

In March, PBT announced the postponement of BNY Mellon presents Here + Now, a mixed-repertory production featuring works by Pittsburgh-native Kyle Abraham, longtime PBT collaborator Dwight Rhoden, renowned Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato and the world-premier of an original piece by PBT Artist in Residence Staycee Pearl, sponsored by AE&E Fund. Shortly thereafter, the company also postponed its performances of Balanchine + Tchaikovsky with the PBT Orchestra, a program featuring choreography by George Balanchine set to the music of P.I. Tchaikovsky.

Both BNY Mellon presents Here + Now and Balanchine + Tchaikovsky have been incorporated into PBT’s upcoming 2020-2021 Season. The season will now feature a total of six programs, beginning with Balanchine + Tchaikovsky with the PBT Orchestra in October. Cinderella with the PBT Orchestra, originally scheduled as the season opener, has been rescheduled for February, replacing The Merry Widow. BNY Mellon presents Here + Now will be featured at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center in April, alongside the Modern Masters program.

Ticket holders for the two rescheduled programs will be contacted by PBT via email and by phone to discuss options for attending these performances. Patrons who have already subscribed to PBT’s 2020-2021 Season will also be contacted by PBT to discuss options to add the sixth program to their package.

Company Promotions

Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has also announced the promotion of three corps de ballet dancers to the rank of soloist for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 2020-2021 Season.

Dancers Tommie Kesten of Pittsburgh; Lucius Kirst of Los Angeles; and Jessica McCann of Los Angeles will begin their first mainstage season as soloists this fall with Balanchine + Tchaikovsky with the PBT Orchestra on stage Oct. 23-25 at the Benedum Center.

About PBT’s Newest Soloists’

Tommie Lin Kesten

Tommie KestenPittsburgh native Tommie Lin Kesten joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2018 from PBT’s Graduate Program, where she trained for a year. Tommie was named one of Pointe Magazine’s “Stars of the Corps” in 2019 and Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2020. She received her early training from The Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh and Miami City Ballet School, and completed summer intensives at the School of American Ballet, Miami City Ballet and PBT School. Tommie has performed Sugar Plum Fairy in PBT’s The Nutcracker, Bluebird Pas de Deux in The Sleeping Beauty, and Peasant Pas de Deux in Giselle. Her repertoire also includes George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht, Valse Fantaisie, Western Symphony, Divertimento No. 15 and Tall Girl in Rubies, as well as Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces.

 

Lucius Kirst

Lucius KirstA native of Los Angeles, Lucius Kirst joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2014. Kirst previously performed with Ballet San Jose as a member of the corps de ballet and was also a member of the Studio Company at American Ballet Theatre. Kirst trained on full scholarship at The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre in New York City, and received his early training at City Ballet School in San Francisco and Marin Ballet in California. He has participated in summer intensive programs at American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet.

 

 

 

Jessica McCann

Jessica McCannJessica McCann, of Los Angeles, joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2015. Her past training includes a year with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet in San Francisco and American Ballet Theatre in New York, before joining PBT’s Pre-Professional Program in 2013. Since joining the company, McCann was chosen for Pointe Magazine’s top 10 “Stars of the Corps” in 2016. She has performed many featured roles at PBT, including Principal Couple in George Balanchine’s Rubies; the lead in William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated; Blue Bird Pas de Deux, Diamond Variation, the Fairy of Abundance and Canary Fairy in Terrence S. Orr’s The Sleeping Beauty; Pas de Trois and Cygnets in Orr’s Swan Lake; Peasant Pas de Duex and Zulma demi soloist in Orr’s Giselle; Anita in West Side Story Suite and the First Girl in Fancy Free by Jerome Robbins; Dwight Rhoden’s Ava Maria; and the Sugar Plum Fairy, Marie, Arabian and Snow Queen in Orr’s The Nutcracker.

Other memorable performances include Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, Sechs Tänze and Sinfonietta; the Pas de Duex in Nacho Duato’s Duende; the soloist in Kyle Abraham’s The Quiet Dance; Spring Waters Pas de Deux; the Cook in Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland; a Harlot in Derek Deane’s Romeo and Juliet; and an Odalisque in Le Corsaire. McCann has also performed in George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante, Divertimento No.15 and Western Symphony; Antony Tudor’s Jardin Aux Lilas; Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet; Ben Stevenson’s Dracula; as well as PBT’s La Bayadère, and Lew Christensen’s Beauty and The Beast. For its 2017-2018 main-stage season, PBT commissioned McCann to choreograph a new work, the silver line., which made its world premiere in March 2018. She has also created Amoeba, a new work for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Graduate Program that premiered at the School’s end-of-year showcase in 2019.
McCann has done guest performance outside of the U.S. in Japan and Bermuda, where she has both danced and choreographed. She was also asked to judge the World Dream Ballet Competition in Osaka, Japan in 2018.

PBT’s 2020-2021 Season

Balanchine + Tchaikovsky with the PBT Orchestra
Oct. 23-25, 2020 — Benedum Center
Choreography: George Balanchine | Music: P.I. Tchaikovsky

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s storied history with Balanchine and Tchaikovsky is revived in this mixed-repertory production celebrating two of ballet’s greatest contributors. The music of P.I. Tchaikovsky has provided the backbone for many of George Balanchine’s most exquisite ballets, including the invigorating Theme and Variations, the expansive Allegro Brillante and the consummate Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, set to the classic music of Swan Lake. This program event also features Diamonds, the brilliant third movement of Balanchine’s Jewels.

The Nutcracker
Dec. 4-27, 2020 — Benedum Center
Choreography & Concept: Terrence S. Orr | Music: P.I. Tchaikovsky

The magic of the holiday season fills the Benedum Center stage in The Nutcracker. PBT’s Pittsburgh-inspired production captures the excitement of the original story through five fanciful scenes, over 150 unique costumes and Tchaikovsky’s timeless score. With a rotating cast of dozens of dancers, each performance provides a fresh experience to audiences and artists alike.

Cinderella with the PBT Orchestra
Feb. 12-14, 2021 — Benedum Center
Choreography: Kent Stowell | Music: Sergei Prokofiev

A classic fairy tale is renewed with romance at its core in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre premier of Kent Stowell’s Cinderella. Attend the royal ball with Cinderella, her wicked step sisters and her prince as the familiar tale of true love unfolds through grand theatrical scenery, glittering costumes and Prokofiev’s splendid score.

BNY Mellon presents Here + Now ft. Kyle Abraham, Dwight Rhoden, Nacho Duato and PBT Artist in Residence Staycee Pearl, sponsored by AE&E Fund
April 8-11, 2021 — August Wilson African American Cultural Center
In partnership with the August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Choreography & Music: Mixed Repertory

This mixed-repertory production brings together celebrated choreographers to create stunning dance for the here and now in the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. The Quiet Dance, from Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham, captures the feelings of frustration and isolation through sweeping movement, beginning in silence and then carried by the gentleness of Bill Evans’ arrangement of Bernstein’s Some Other Time. The beloved popular music of Paul Simon sets the stage for Dwight Rhoden’s physical and visceral Simon Said. Finally, local choreographer Staycee Pearl presents the world premier of SKIN + saltwater, a visionary piece created for the PBT Company.

Modern Masters ft. Mark Morris, Nacho Duato and More
April 15-18, 2021 — August Wilson African American Cultural Center
In partnership with the August Wilson African American Cultural Center
Choreography & Music: Mixed Repertory

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre returns to the August Wilson African American Cultural Center with a mixed-repertory program featuring Mark Morris’ exultant Maelstrom, set to Beethoven’s Ghost Trio. Nacho Duato puts the music of Claude Debussy at the center of his enchanting Duende, fluidly melding the human form and the shape of sound to create a magical landscape. The final piece of the performance will be chosen by PBT’s incoming artistic director, Susan Jaffe.

Alice in Wonderland
May 7-16, 2021 — Benedum Center
Choreography: Derek Deane | Music: P.I. Tchaikovsky, additional music by Carl Davis

Step into a surreal world of outlandish illusion, dreamlike scenery and your favorite Lewis Carroll characters in Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland. A whimsical medley of Tchaikovsky’s music provides the perfect backdrop to the madness of deranged tea parties, unhinged games of croquet and extraordinary dance. Don’t miss the madcap ballet the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls an “old-fashioned romp through [the] British classic, ripe with an over-the-top music hall flavor.”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Names Susan Jaffe New Artistic Director

After an extensive search, the Board of Trustees of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School (PBT School) announced today the appointment of Susan Jaffe as artistic director. Jaffe will succeed Terrence S. Orr, who last summer announced his intent to retire in June 2020, after the company’s 50th Anniversary Season.

“After a thorough and comprehensive search over the past nine months aided by Management Consultants for the Arts (MCA), we are thrilled to announce that Susan Jaffe, currently Dean of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), will become PBT’s next artistic director,” Board Chair Dawn Fleischner.

“Susan brings a dynamic set of skills and valuable experience gained working in the arts since retiring from her illustrious dance career,” Fleischner added. “In her most recent role at UNCSA, she built a thriving program centered on dancer health and well-being, creating strong community connections while striving for students to achieve high-quality artistry.”

Jaffe will assume the role of artistic director for PBT’s 2020-2021 Season opening in October.

“I am thrilled to take the helm of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as its new artistic director,” said Jaffe. “Leading PBT artistically is a dream come true for me, and I look forward to working with the dancers and everyone in the organization to bring it to its future. Additionally, I am honored to be in the lineage of the artistic directors of PBT who have developed a vast array of repertoire, from the classics to contemporary ballet.”

Jaffe joins the ranks of the company’s distinguished artistic directors, including founding artistic director Nikolas Petrov; Patricia Wilde who, during her tenure from 1982 to 1996, invigorated the company with her refined technique and the works of modern masters; and Terrence S. Orr, who has led the company since 1997, elevating its repertoire through his artistic vision and creative collaborations.

“I have known Susan for a very long time,” said Orr, “and I’ve been proud to know her all these years. I think that she will be a wonderful artistic director for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and we are very lucky to have her leadership for the years to come.”

“Susan is extremely impressive and a fabulous candidate who is up to the challenges that the world is currently facing,” added PBT Executive Director Harris Ferris, “having pivoted her own organization to address the coronavirus.”

About Susan Jaffe

Susan Jaffe, declared “America’s Quintessential American Ballerina” by the New York Times, danced for American Ballet Theatre (ABT) as a principal dancer for 22 years. She appeared prominently in the international dance scene, including performances with the Royal Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet and the English National Ballet. She frequently danced with Mikhail Baryshnikov.

After her retirement from the stage in 2002, Jaffe was appointed advisor to the chairman of the board of ABT, working closely with them from 2002-2007. During that time, she became a teacher at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of American Ballet Theatre, which ultimately inspired her to co-found and co-direct Princeton Dance and Theater Studio (PDT) in Princeton, N.J. in 2003. In 2010, Jaffe was appointed Ballet Mistress of ABT and in 2012, she was appointed Dean of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Winston-Salem, NC.

During her tenure at UNCSA, Jaffe, in collaboration with faculty, produced and implemented a syllabus based on the ABT National Training Curriculum for all levels of the program. She was involved in the development of a dance outreach program for a Title 1 community in Winston-Salem, N.C., and developed and fundraised two scholarships to provide a complete dance education to students on the basis of merit. Jaffe also established the Choreographic Institute of UNCSA, a summer program that nurtures promising choreographers, creating opportunities for them to expand their craft.

A choreographer herself, Jaffe has created works for ABT, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, Grand Rapid Ballet’s Move Media, Company C Contemporary Ballet, Configurations Dance Theatre, DanceVision Youth Ensemble (a non-profit organization she co-founded in Princeton, N.J.), the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Texas Christian University, Princeton University, UNCSA, Youth American Grand Prix Gala, the University of Utah and Goucher College, among others.

Jaffe was New York Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1998. In 2003, Dance Magazine honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. And in 2010, Jaffe received an honorary doctorate from Texas Christian University.

About the Artistic Director Search

PBT began the search for its new artistic director after the June 2019 announcement of Terrence S. Orr’s retirement. The PBT Board of Trustees formed a search committee, co-chaired by Dawn Fleischner and Mary McKinney Flaherty, and selected David Mallette and Jason Palmquist of Management Consultants for the Arts (MCA) to conduct the search for PBT’s new artistic director. MCA’s extensive information gathering process included interviews with PBT senior management, administrative and artistic staff, company dancers, board members, and key stakeholders. Based on this process, MCA and the Search Committee created a position profile that was posted in early October.

Throughout the search, the strong reputation of the company and Pittsburgh’s own robust arts and culture community proved to be draws for a diverse pool of candidates. MCA evaluated over 150 ballet professionals from the United States and abroad. From the applicants, MCA presented 14 accomplished candidates for closer review. The Search Committee elected to interview eight of those – four men and four women, including three persons of color. Ultimately, Jaffe was chosen from among the four final candidates.

“Our committee was impressed with her vast experience and creative vision that directly align with the goals of our candidate search,” Fleischner said.

“The volunteer search committee was able to persevere against the headwinds of this crisis and stay firmly on schedule to announce the new artistic director,” Ferris noted.

On Stage with the Company: the Pre-professional Experience

For pre-professional ballet students, a spot in a professional company is the embodiment of all of their hard work. Being hired into a company opens the door to a world of opportunity to work alongside renowned choreographers and other talented dancers, and to dance their dream roles in modern masterpieces and esteemed classical ballets. So, how does a student land their dream job? It takes years of rigorous training, summer intensives and performance opportunities to hone their craft. Performing on stage is crucial to professional development, and the chance to dance alongside company members can make an even greater impact.

“There are nuances in artistry that can’t always be taught, but can be observed through example,” says Luke Mosher, a full-time Level 8 student in PBT School’s Pre-professional program. “Performing alongside company members gives me the opportunity to study up close these amazing dancers, their performances and their interpretation of a role. It also gives me a real sense of what a full-time career as a dancer will be like. Their example of work ethic and skill inspire and challenge me to reach my own potential.”

PBT School Pre-professional student Luke Mosher getting ready to perform the stag role alongside PBT company dancers in PBT’s Beauty and the Beast. | Performance photo: Rich Sofranko

Student dancers are often cast in company productions of The Nutcracker, but in PBT School’s Pre-professional program, students also have the opportunity perform in other company productions throughout the season. This opportunity, seen as a privilege and honor to Mosher, reinforces the rigor and company culture to the students, and increases the roles they can add to their repertoire. 

“I soak up every bit of wisdom I can from the dancers and the experience,” says Mosher. “To perform in additional productions not only gives me another chance to do that, but also the opportunity to work with different choreography.”

Pre-professional students, alongside PBT company dancers, perform the Waltz of the Flowers from Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr’s The Nutcracker. Mr. Orr has added more roles to the waltz so that more Pre-professional students could perform. | Photo: Rich Sofranko

Fellow Level 8 student Jacqueline Sugianto performed with Mosher in PBT’s 50th Anniversary Season production of Beauty and the Beast. As one of the youngest dancers in the production, the experience was an exciting challenge to be treated as a member of the company. 

“We were expected to pick up choreography or corrections quickly and stay on top of our schedule without reminders,” she said. “We worked alongside the company members in their rehearsals and even got our costumes labelled with our names. These privileges added another element to participating in this production, where I felt that I was trusted and responsible for my actions just like a professional.”

To be considered for a professional career, students need to leave an outstanding impression on an artistic director. Performing in company productions can help students push themselves to perform at the caliber of the company and distinguish themselves as professional-quality dancers to artistic leadership and to audiences. 

In addition to the opportunity to impress on stage, PBT School Graduate students can get even more exposure in classes taught by company artistic staff. “The attention to detail and personal corrections given by each of my teachers has helped sculpt me into the dancer I am today,” says Graduate student Lily Miller. “I feel like I am pushed constantly to be the best version of myself in the school classes I take, which has helped me grow so much as a dancer.” 

PBT School Pre-professional students Lily Miller and Jacqueline Sugianto get ready backstage for PBT’s Beauty and the Beast.

From the classroom to the stage, these students define their future as they transform themselves into the professional dancers they aspire to be. “Having the opportunity to perform in multiple company productions throughout the year has definitely improved my performance quality as a professional in training,” says Miller. “Being exposed as young dancers to the professional stage has given me experience I will carry with me through my entire professional career.”

Header and main image: Rich Sofranko; Artists: PBT Company members and PBT School Pre-professional students

Casting for PNC Presents Beauty and the Beast is Announced!

Casting for Beauty and the Beast is up! Four outstanding couples will tackle the lead roles of Beauty and the Beast throughout the two-weekend run. PNC presents Beauty and the Beast opens Valentine’s Day and runs through Feb. 23 at the Benedum Center, including a special sensory-friendly performance on Feb. 23.

See complete casting here!

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Meet Your Beauties and Beasts:

Diana Yohe & William Moore: Feb. 14 at 11 a.m. (student matinee) and Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.

Diana Yohe & Yoshiaki Nakano: Feb. 16 at 2 p.m.

Amanda Cochrane & Yoshiaki Nakano: Feb 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 23 at 4:30 p.m. (sensory-friendly performance).

Hannah Carter & Lucius Kirst: Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. and Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.

Alexandra Kochis & Alejandro Diaz: Feb. 14 at 8 p.m., Feb. 15 at 8 p.m., Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 23 at 12 p.m.

Explore Beauty and the Beast

  • Watch: View the trailer here.

Casting for The Nutcracker Has Arrived

Casting for The Nutcracker has been announced! It’s the most magical time of the year as Marie and her Nutcracker prince journey to the Land of Enchantment encountering the Snow Queen and King, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, and the cast of memorable characters, performed by the talented artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.

View the full cast list here.

The Nutcracker runs Dec. 6-29 at the Benedum Center.

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Explore The Nutcracker

  • Watch: View the trailer here.
  • For Kids: Download The Nutcracker Children’s Guide for a kid-friendly synopsis and games.
  • Synopsis & More: Read the story of the ballet, the history of the music and costumes, and more here.

Ballet Under the Stars 2019: Program & Casting

Ballet Under the Stars is Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s chance to get outside! The day is full of activities, food and fun for everyone. From kids activities – like crafts and creative movement classes – to food trucks and the perfect picnic opportunity for grownups, Ballet Under the Stars has a little bit of everything.

The evening includes a fabulous, free, al fresco performance as well. Check out the program and casting and don’t miss the kickoff to PBT’s 50th Anniversary Season with Ballet Under the Stars on Sunday, Aug. 18 at Hartwood Acres.

Bonus: Here’s how to make the most of your day at Hartwood Acres (and tips for staking out the best spot to watch the show).

Luca Sbrizzi to Take Final Bow of 12-Year Career

PITTSBURGH, PA (Aug. 1, 2019) – Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) long-time principal dancer Luca Sbrizzi has announced his plans to close his 12-year career with PBT following the company’s 50th Anniversary Season opener in October.

“My career at PBT has been absolutely wonderful,” Sbrizzi said. “I’ve gotten to share the stage with so many dancers I admire and perform all the roles that I’ve ever wanted to do. First and foremost is ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ It’s the reason why I started ballet. It’s the most complete ballet there is, the perfect match of technique and artistry. I feel so immensely grateful I was able to perform this role and fulfill a dream of mine.”

In addition to Romeo in Derek Deane’s “Romeo and Juliet”, Sbrizzi has performed roles with PBT including Frederick and Renfield in Ben Stevenson’s “Dracula,” the title role in Jorden Morris’ “Peter Pan,” Matthew in Jorden Morris’ “Moulin Rouge® – The Ballet,” Prince Desiré in Terrence S. Orr’s “The Sleeping Beauty,” Basilio in Orr’s “Don Quixote,” Solor in Orr’s “La Bayadère,” Albrecht in Orr’s “Giselle” and Prince Sigfried in Orr’s “Swan Lake.”

Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr, who will also retire later this season after more than 23 years with the company, said that Sbrizzi’s technical and dramatic abilities bring something special to the company.

“PBT will miss his wonderful contributions and his talent,” Orr said. “I’m really going to miss him.”

Sbrizzi, originally of Udine, Italy, joined PBT in 2007 and was promoted to principal in 2016. Before coming to Pittsburgh, he trained with his sister, Alessia Sbrizzi, at Abidance and Pino Carbone at “Club il Vortice” and performed with Boston Ballet II.

“I feel that Luca and I share a very special commonality of spirit onstage,” Alexandra Kochis, Sbrizzi’s frequent dance partner and fellow Boston Ballet alum, said. “That’s something that every performer craves – that connection. It’s something so powerful and so unique to that time and that place and that partnership. Luca and I have known each other since we were pretty much babies in this industry and, on the ocean of life, I certainly never expected this wave we have ridden for the last 2 plus years [dancing together as principals].”

Sbrizzi intends to stay in Pittsburgh, at his home in Stanton Heights, after his final bow. He and his wife, Jenna are expecting their first child in November of 2019. He received his massage therapy license several years ago and intends to use it to help dancers and athletes feel and perform their best.

“I can’t tell you how much I admire Luca’s work ethic, integrity and dedication,” Gabrielle Thurlow, Sbrizzi’s longtime dance partner, said. “Having danced several roles with him, I was fortunate enough to experience these qualities first hand. Over the years, he’s given me endless laughs, support and motivation, and I will truly miss his presence both in the studio and on stage.”

Sbrizzi will close his tenure at PBT with “Giselle” with the PBT Orchestra in October.

“I’ve always been in love with all the major classical ballets,” Sbrizzi said. “In 2016, I was lucky to perform Albrecht in ‘Giselle,’ and that’s why I wanted to circle back to that before retiring. It’s an amazing ballet and it truly takes you through a one-of-a-kind emotional journey. I want to experience that one more time before letting this world go.”

“Since I was very young, I’ve been taught the importance of communicating to the audience – the importance of connecting with them. I think that’s how you capture people’s hearts and how you make the audience feel something. And for me, that’s what the art form is all about.”

See Luca’s final performance on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 8 p.m.

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New Dancer Spotlight: Sam DerGregorian

Sam DerGregorian comes to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre from the Professional Division of Pacific Northwest Ballet School, but PBT is not his first company. At just 16, Sam was a member of the New Mexico Ballet Company in his hometown of Albuquerque. There he performed in productions of The Wizard of Oz and, of course, The Nutcracker. Get to know Sam, one of Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr’s new hires for the 2019-2020 Season, here:

Fun Facts

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Family: “I have my mom and dad, one brother, one sister, and three dogs!”

Pre-performance ritual: “I love to turn on some energetic music and jam out!”

Hobbies: “I love to watch movies, hang out with friends and explore the city I’m in!”

Favorite food: “Anything breakfast related!”

Favorite musician/song: “Beyoncé!!!!!”

Ultimate dream role: “It changes a lot, but at the moment I would love to do anything in Dances at a Gathering. It seems so fulfilling to dance an hour-long ballet and I love the movement and music of the piece.

Favorite role to date: “At PNB, Margret Mullin is creating a piece for the Professional Division students, and I think that has to be my favorite thing I have done to date.

Q&A

How do you think you’ve grown as an artist during your training? How has it prepared you for a professional position?

“In the past couple of years, I have tried to use my training to develop more artistry. Instead of just performing the steps, I’ve been thinking about how I can perform the step. This could be in the way I use my head, how fast or slow I make the movement, or how I use my port de bras. And by doing this, I think it helps establish a greater connection with an audience because it creates a sense of openness for the audience to relate to.”

Describe your ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.

“I remember being 14 at the PNB summer course. One day in between classes, I looked in on company class. They all just looked so happy, and I realized that I wanted to do that. I never really thought of pursuing ballet as a career, but the moment I saw them something clicked, saying, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’ And I’m very excited to be making that dream a reality!”

What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?

“This season I really want to develop my technique and artistry more. Also, I want to make sure I’m enjoying professional life as much as possible, since this is something I have been dreaming of for a long time!”

What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?

“To me, that minute on stage is the most fulfilling part. That moment on stage when you’re looking at the crowd and dancing your heart out just makes all the hard work and sweat worth it!”

What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?

“I’m very excited for Balanchine program! The ballets in the program are staples from Balanchine’s repertoire, and I’m so excited to see them! I’m also very excited for Giselle. It’s one of the biggest story ballets and it will be my first time ever seeing it!”

If I wasn’t a ballet dancer, I would be…

“If I weren’t a ballet dancer, I would probably have gone into business. But I still think I would’ve found a way into the ballet world.”

PBT on Tour at Chautauqua Institution: Casting and More

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre hits the road on Saturday, July 13 to perform with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at Chautauqua Institution. The company returns to the amphitheater stage with George Balanchine’s Rubies, the sultry second movement of Jewels, set to Igor Stravinksy’s Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra​. The company will shine through highlights of The Sleeping Beauty, including the dazzling third act and an appearance by the talented students of the Chautauqua School of Dance for the Garland Dance.

Get tickets for the performance and see the complete program and cast list.

New Dancer Spotlight: Allison Durand

Allison Durand, a PBT School student since 2016, is no stranger to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre audiences. As a student, she has performed in Giselle, Alice in Wonderland, Romeo and Juliet, Rubies, The Great Gatsby and The Nutcracker with PBT. This season, she makes her official company debut. Get to know Allison, one of Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr’s new hires for the 2019-2020 Season, here:

Fun Facts

Hometown: Charleston, South Carolina

Family: “My younger sister Katie, mom and dad, and Lucy the beagle.”

Pre-performance ritual: “Eat my favorite breakfast smoothie while I read devotions, do my usual warm-up before class, get candy from the backstage candy basket and pray before I go onstage.”

Hobbies: “Baking and blogging about my baking (@waltzoftheflours).”

Favorite food: “Literally any food at all – if it’s edible, I probably like it! But I’m a sucker for dessert.”

Favorite musician/song: “Queen.”

Ultimate dream role: “Giselle.

Favorite role to date: “Arabian in The Nutcracker.

Q&A

How do you think you’ve grown as an artist during your time in the PBT School Graduate Program? How has it prepared you for a professional position?

“I definitely feel as though I’ve grown through my years as a grad. The performance opportunities prepared me for the schedule and atmosphere of company life. And because we are training every day, our technique obviously improves over the course of the program. But I think the biggest growth I experienced wasn’t technical, actually. I spent most of my second year and part of my third year here out with injuries. Before that happened, I was placing all my personal worth in ballet – not eating enough, struggling with body image and putting unhealthy pressure on myself to succeed – so I basically fell apart when I lost ballet. Thankfully, God used that low point bring about major growth in me. I came out of the experience physically, spiritually and mentally stronger than I’d ever been. Essentially, I realized that there’s more to me than ballet, a realization that actually made me a better dancer and person – and a realization that every dancer must make in order to avoid burning out or beating themselves up to the point of losing their joy for this art.”

Describe your ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.

“I don’t recall an exact moment when I realized that I wanted to make a career out of ballet. However, there was a period in middle school when I had to take some time off for a foot issue, and I remember realizing so quickly how much I missed dance. I realized that I didn’t want to live a life without ballet if I could. From then on, I approached it with a new intensity and trained with the motivation of dancing professionally one day.”

What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?

“I think a constant goal for me that comes to mind is increased strength and control, specifically in my feet and ankles. I have very hyper-mobile joints, and getting them as strong as possible has always been a struggle for me. But beyond that, I hope to grow in my artistry – really begin the process of maturing in my dancing. Now that I am not a student, performing will be my job, and I want to go into next year with that shift in mindset. A final goal I have is to positively influence the students at PBT. Because I’ve been in their position for three years, I can truly understand the difficulties that ballet students face, and I want more than anything to use my experiences for the good of those dancing around me.”

What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?

“For me, just the feeling of performing on stage is most fulfilling – it’s simply indescribable. The opportunity to really become a character (especially characters with personalities very unlike my own) and to share it with an audience brings me such excitement. Also, accomplishing the physical demands of ballet is extremely fulfilling to me – little victories like finally nailing a difficult turn sequence or finishing a brutal day of rehearsal with my body sore and drenched in sweat is oddly satisfying.”

What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?

“There are so many things! But one of them is performing Giselle again. It’s not only one of my favorite ballets, but it was the first ballet I performed with PBT as a grad student; to do it again but as a company member will be so surreal. I’m also looking forward to the variety of repertoire we’re going to perform next year and the fact that we’re going to have a new Staycee Pearl work set on the company for the August Wilson African American Cultural Center show.”

If I wasn’t a ballet dancer, I would be…

“A baker. I’ve always loved baking, but it became a major passion of mine last year when I had more free time than usual because of the injuries. Now, I create a new recipe and blog post every week. And I’m not vegan, but I specialize in vegan desserts! I could definitely see myself turning it into a job when I’m older and retire from dance.”

PBT Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr to Retire after 23 Years

After leading the company for 23 years, Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has announced he will retire in June 2020 after celebrating the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s upcoming 50​th​ Anniversary Season.

Over more than two decades as artistic director, Orr has grown the company’s repertory with more than 20 new commissions and dozens of acquisitions. He has debuted ambitious story ballets like La Bayadère, Romeo et Juliette and A Streetcar Named Desire; curated major masterworks by dance giants like Jerome Robbins, Jiří Kylián and Twyla Tharp; and provided a platform for emerging choreographers, including from within the company. His original production of ​The Nutcracker has been a Pittsburgh classic for close to 20 years. During his tenure, the company has grown its ticket sales, school enrollment and campus. It has debuted the country’s first professional sensory-friendly production of ​The Nutcracker and increased accessibility and educational programming in the theater, studio and community.

“I have made Pittsburgh my home and certainly my life ever since,” said Orr, who has lived in Sewickley with his wife, PBT Ballet Mistress Marianna Tcherkassky, since becoming PBT artistic director in 1997. “It has been exciting to watch the company grow and rise to incredible heights.”

“We’ve developed a distinct voice and special place in the city where you can experience the great classics, the great choreographers and the emerging voices moving this art form into the future. It has been my honor to lead this company for the past 23 years and great privilege to lead it through its 50​th​ anniversary. I want to thank the dancers, musicians and patrons who have become like family. You have made my time here something I will always cherish.”

Orr, a California native, began his dance career at ​San Francisco Ballet, where he became a principal dancer by age 17. He went on to lead ​a celebrated career at New York City’s American Ballet Theatre (ABT), ​rising from corps de ballet to principal dancer. He joined ABT’s artistic staff while he was still performing and served as ballet master from 1978 to 1997.​ ​He has staged works for ballet companies worldwide, including the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera Ballet, La Scala, Australian Ballet and National Ballet of Japan.

“Hundreds of students and professional dancers can attest to the immeasurable influence and passion that Terry passes on to future generations,” said Dawn Fleischner, ​chair, PBT Board of  Trustees​. “Terry is beloved by the entire organization and we can’t say enough about the indelible legacy he created in Pittsburgh. His vision has set the stage for an exciting future for this company and we will be forever grateful for his leadership.”

The PBT ​Board will work out the next steps of succession planning by forming a search  committee and begin the search for a new artistic director starting this summer.

“It’s been a real privilege and honor to work in partnership with Terry over the past 13 years  and he will be greatly missed,” said Harris Ferris, executive director. “I look forward to  supporting the board in the forthcoming search and transition in artistic leadership.”

Orr will close his career with PBT by leading celebrations for the company’s 50​th​ Anniversary Season, which opens in October at the Benedum Center. The season will honor the company’s history with a five-production lineup featuring ​Giselle with the PBT Orchestra (Oct. 25-27), ​The Nutcracker (Dec. 6-29), PNC Presents ​Beauty and the Beast (Feb. 14-23), ​Here & Now at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center (March 20-29) and ​Balanchine & Tchaikovsky with the PBT Orchestra (April 17-19) as well as exciting repertoire to be performed on tour on prestigious national stages including the Chautauqua Institution, Northrop at University of Minnesota and others soon to be announced.

PBT School’s Spring Performances Blend Old and New

After the curtain comes down on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 2018-19 season, a new one rises to showcase the talented dancers of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School for the School’s annual Pre-professional Showcase and Spring Performance. On May 17-19, PBT School’s Pre-professional students perform in Point Park University’s George Howland White Performance Studio, and from May 24-25, students from the pre-ballet division up share the Byham Theater stage in the culmination of a year’s worth of training.

A stunning production of classical and neoclassical work lies in store, complete with a few new surprises. Audiences can look forward to a diverse repertoire, including choreography from company dancers Yoskiaki Nakano and Jessica McCann, says graduate student Jack Hawn.

“We’re doing Raymonda,” Hawn said, “which is purely classical. And then Yoshi is choreographing his pieces more neoclassical, still with the structure in classical music. And then Jess’ choreography is very contemporary, very experimental movement.”

For the first time, a hip-hop piece, choreographed by PBT faculty Gino Vaccaro, will be including in the Pre-professional Showcase.

“It’s exciting that as the school we get to experience that kind of program.”

Students performing Vaccaro’s hip-hop dance.
Photo: Nicole Sauter

Hawn will be performing the lead role in Raymonda opposite fellow Graduate student Allison Durand, bookending both of their student careers before joining the PBT company in the 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-2020.

“So much of this year for us is revolved around auditions and stressing about where we are going be next year,” Durand said. “And so I’ve always just been looking forward to the day of the Showcase because I just knew I’m going to know what’s happening next year. I’m going to be able to breathe.”

Allie Durand rehearsing “Divertimento No. 15.” Balanchine choreography © The George Balanchine Trust
Photo: Nicole Sauter

Durand, Hawn and the rest of the Graduate students will be performing in both the Pre-professional Showcase and the Spring Performance. The Spring Performance will feature over 200 students from preparatory ballet through the Graduate Level. Students will get to perform a wide range of choreography, from Balanchine to Petipa and works by PBT School Faculty.

Dancers from the student division – pre-ballet through Level V – will all take the stage together for a tremendous performance of “Carnival of the Animals,” choreographed by Student Division Principal Eun Young Ahn set to the humorous musical suite by famed French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

Brining such diverse choreography and such a wide range of experience to the stage is no easy feat. It’s the mark of hard work of students and faculty that sets the Spring shows apart and makes the Pre-professional Showcase and the Spring Performance possible.

“I hope people make it out to see it,” Hawn said. “It’s a lot of hard work that goes into it for many, many months and there are some really talented people dancing in this show and some really talented choreographers and teachers working on it as well. It will be a real treat.”

See PBT School’s Pre-Professional Showcase May 17-19 at Point Park University and don’t miss the Spring Performance May 24-25 at the Byham Theater.

New Dancer Spotlight: Jack Hawn

Jack Hawn, a PBT School student since 2012, has been recruited by Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr to join the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre company for its 50th Anniversary Season in 2019-2020. He’s no stranger to the PBT stage, however. Jack has performed in company productions of The Sleeping BeautyLe Corsaire, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, Alice in Wonderland and, most recently, The Great Gatsby. He’s also a fixture in PBT School studios, providing piano accompaniment for School classes and writing original music for PBT School ballets. Get to know Jack here:

Fun Facts

Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Family: “I have a large extended family, three remarkable younger brothers, an endlessly supportive father and step-mother, and my mother, who passed away years ago, but is always with me.”

Pre-performance ritual: “Before a show, I like to listen to music while getting into makeup and costume. Then, I always try and spend a few quiet moments on stage or in the wings before the music starts to enjoy the anticipation and energy that makes performing so thrilling.”

Hobbies: “When comfortable weather comes around, I like to spend as much time as I can hiking and camping. I also like playing music, trying new styles on different instruments.”

Favorite food: “Anything my grandmother cooks. I grew up next door to my grandparents, which was a very impactful part of my childhood. For me, her food means home.”

Favorite musician/song: “It is very hard to choose just one! However, I’m a big fan of Dave Van Ronk, the enigmatic folksinger who ruled Greenwich Village in the ’60s.”

Ultimate dream role: “I would enjoy taking a stab at playing the antagonist – Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet or Espada in Don Quixote.”

Favorite role to date: “Portraying Lord Montague in Derek Deane’s Romeo and Juliet is a definite highlight.

Q&A

How do you think you’ve grown as an artist during your time in the PBT School Graduate Program? How has it prepared you for a professional position?

“The Graduate Program has offered me the opportunity to develop a solid technical foundation and an individual artistic voice, while gaining an understanding of the demands of dancing in the corps de ballet.”

Describe your ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.

“I cannot recall an exact moment, just a desire for as long as I can remember.”

What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?

“I recognize how lucky I am to be in my position. I aim to remember that and enjoy the process and the hard work each day.”

What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?

“Ballet is hard work and places hurdles often. Overcoming those obstacles and going on stage, where all that work becomes justified, brings me a great sense of satisfaction and joy.”

What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?

“I am looking forward to doing what I love, at a company that I love, with friends and colleagues that I love, in a city that I love.”

If I wasn’t a ballet dancer, I would be…

“A musician or composer. I’ve been able to work as an accompanist for ballet classes here at PBT for several years, and was lucky enough to compose original music for two ballets that were performed by PBT School.”

Casting for The Sleeping Beauty Has Arrived

Casting for The Sleeping Beauty has been announced! Three thrilling couples will take on the roles of Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré, and their cast of fairy-tale friends and foes will be performed by the talented dancers of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.

Fri., May 10, 8 p.m. Sat., May 11, 2 p.m. Sat., May 11, 8 p.m. Sun., May 12, 2 p.m.
Princess Aurora Amanda Cochrane Hannah Carter Alexandra Kochis Amanda Cochrane
Prince Désiré Yoshiaki Nakano Alejandro Diaz Luca Sbrizzi Yoshiaki Nakano
Carabosse Eun Young Ahn Corey Bourbonniere Cooper Verona Eun Young Ahn
Lilac Fairy Hannah Carter Marisa Grywalski Marisa Grywalski Hannah Carter

The Sleeping Beauty with the PBT Orchestra runs May 10-12 at the Benedum Center. Get tickets and view the full cast list here.

Explore The Sleeping Beauty