Hello, Pittsburgh! Last month, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre made a small but triumphant return to live performances outside at our Strip District studios, and I had the honor of introducing our company dancers on stage as the new artistic director. What a humbling and emotional experience. One word best describes how I got here – serendipity.
As some of you may already know, former Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr was a mentor of mine when he was a rehearsal coach at American Ballet Theatre. What you may not know is that his guidance influenced not only the trajectory of my career, but also how I approached performing.
I recall it so well. I was standing backstage before a performance, visibly nervous. Upon noticing, Terrence approached me and asked, “Have you heard what golfers do? They see the hole-in-one before they take the stroke.“
That wisdom prompted me to learn how to retrain my mind and visualize my performances going well. This idea was life-changing! A positive mindset is crucial, especially during times of challenge and adversity.
Maintaining positivity resonates now more than ever.
The more I get to know the dancers of PBT and the people who hold them in such high esteem, the easier I can visualize us rising from these challenging times even stronger than before.
As evident in our recent television broadcast at Hartwood Acres and at our Open Air Series, our dancers are hungry to move their bodies freely again and perform for more intimate audiences this fall. We’re also lucky to have an industrious and talented staff working behind the scenes to deliver the kind of creativity and energy that only arts organizations can provide.
The key to our success now lies with you, our patrons. I am inspired by your Pittsburgh pride and loyalty to PBT, and I look forward to seeing how our company, school and community partnerships can transform. With your support, the possibilities to keep us dancing are limitless.
Whether it be outside in your neighborhood, at our Strip District campus or at the Benedum Center, I look forward to sharing the beauty of ballet with you this season!
On behalf of all of us at PBT, we thank you for all you do.
In response to public health guidance and restrictions on public assembly due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) will present an updated 2020-2021 Season, beginning Sept. 10 with a series of outdoor performances at PBT Studios in the Strip District.
PBT’s performances of “Balanchine + Tchaikovsky” and “The Nutcracker” will not take place at the Benedum Center as scheduled. In lieu of traditional theater performances, PBT will offer ticket holders to “Balanchine + Tchaikovsky” a socially distanced, outdoor ballet experience presented PBT’s new mobile performing arts venue at PBT’s Strip District campus. PBT is exploring options to reimagine “The Nutcracker” for audiences in December. Programs scheduled for 2021 remain unchanged.
“While this isn’t the season we had planned, we’re thrilled to be able to connect with our audience outdoors and online,” Artistic Director Susan Jaffe, who took the helm of the company at the height of the pandemic in July, said. “It’s our mission to provide Pittsburgh with extraordinary ballet experiences, and the adaptability and creativity of our company and staff makes that possible, even within the limitations of a COVID-19 world.”
PBT is also exploring options for an additional performance in the fall and more opportunities to make use of the mobile performing arts venue throughout the year.
Open Air Series & Mobile Performing Arts Venue
On Sept. 10-14, PBT will launch its Open Air Series at PBT, an outdoor performing arts series at PBT Studios. The parking lot of PBT’s Strip District campus will be converted into a performance space with socially distanced audience seating and performances on PBT’s new Stageline SAM450 mobile performing arts venue.
“Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is thrilled to move forward with the purchase of the Stageline SAM450 mobile stage with 85 percent of the funds raised,” Executive Director Harris Ferris said, “and we are encouraged by strong interest from additional partners to complete the funding. Major gifts received so far are from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust and the Jack Buncher Foundation. With the SAM450 capable of mounting full-scale ballet, opera, symphony, and all manner of performing arts productions, it provides a solution in the current pandemic and a window to the future. We are looking toward a future of performing arts that engages people in their own communities, expanding our reach and increasing access to the arts for audiences throughout the region.”
Patrons with tickets to “Balanchine + Tchaikovsky” will be offered the option to use their tickets to attend a mixed-repertory production held for a small, socially distanced audience. These PBT performances will not be open to the broader public, but the ballet intends to use the mobile performing arts venue and the Open Air Series to continue to connect audiences to the performing arts through outdoor events throughout the region.
For the Open Air Series inaugural performances, safety protocols such as mandatory masks, socially distanced seating, digital playbills and limited access to the PBT building will be enforced during performances.
In addition to PBT, several other arts organizations in Pittsburgh will host performances during the Open Air Series from Sept. 10-14. Pittsburgh CLO will present solo performances featuring students from the CLO Academy Professional Development Program on Sept. 12. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform a concert of popular classical works performed by ensembles of its musicians on Sept. 13. Also on Sept. 13, Pittsburgh Opera will present a short program that Sunday evening, with details to follow. The August Wilson African American Cultural Center will present live jazz with the Jevon Rushton Group and special guests on Sept. 14. Details about these performances and ticket information will be available soon on each organization’s website.
PBT’s performance will include performances of excerpts from “Coppelia,” “Swan Lake,” “Who Cares?,” “The Sleeping Beauty” and more.
“The Nutcracker” Experience
The magic of “The Nutcracker” will be transformed in December 2020 when PBT presents a reimagined “Nutcracker” experience. The reimagining, which will include educational programs and special at-home offerings, will be available to existing “Nutcracker” ticket holders and the public. Details about PBT’s “Nutcracker” experience will be announced this fall.
PBT School Reopening
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School will welcome students back to the studios this fall with in-person, online and hybrid programs. PBT School programming has been entirely virtual since the building closed in March. Beginning in September, after three weeks of remote learning, PBT School students of all levels will have options for in-person, virtual or hybrid programs. Safety protocols, including limited class sizes, enforced social distancing and limited time spent in the building will be part of PBT School’s reopening.
For more information on PBT School’s fall programs, visit the PBT School webpage here.
Ticket Information & FAQ
Subscribers and ticket holders to performances of “Balanchine + Tchaikovsky” and “The Nutcracker” will receive an email from PBT patron services outlining several options for tickets. Patrons with tickets to “Balanchine + Tchaikovsky” will have the opportunity to use their ticket to attend the Open Air Series, request a refund, save their ticket for a future PBT performance or donate the cost of the ticket to PBT.
Subscribers and ticket holders with tickets to “The Nutcracker” will be contacted in the coming weeks with options for their ticket and details about PBT’s reimagined “Nutcracker” experience.
For frequently asked questions regarding ticket options and subscriptions, please visit PBT’s website.
Pittsburgh native Amy Herchenroether began training with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School in the late 1990’s in Creative Movement classes, eventually working her way up to the full time high school program. After attending the Boston Ballet School Trainee program for 2 years, she returned to PBT School as a Graduate student before being hired into St. Louis Ballet. Experiences such as performing The Nutcracker onstage with PBT company and training a variety of dance forms in the School helped to prepare her for the repertoire and roles she performed in her professional career.
PBT School caught up with Amy about her experiences as a student at PBT and as a professional at St. Louis Ballet. Listen to the interview below!
What I really appreciated about my training at PBT was just how well rounded it is. I think I see that now looking back, even more than when I was a student. You get a really strong classical ballet training, but you’re also exposed to contemporary, jazz and character, plus Pilates, conditioning. Looking back, I think the training is just unbelievable.
Cover Photo by Pratt Kreidich Photography
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
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.
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.
- MoBBallet – an organization dedicated to preserving, presenting and promoting the contributions and stories of Black artists in ballet.
- From VISITPittsburgh, a list of Black-owned businesses in Pittsburgh to support. There are many more not mentioned on this list that you can find by searching the Cocoapraeneur database.
- The State of Black Pittsburgh 2019 – a panel conversation aired by WQED featuring PBT Company Dancer Victoria Watford.
- A list of additional educational antiracism 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.
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.
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
Pittsburgh 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.
A 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, 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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 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!
Meet Your Beauties and Beasts:
Explore Beauty and the Beast
- Watch: View the trailer here.
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.
The Nutcracker runs Dec. 6-29 at the Benedum Center.
Explore The Nutcracker
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).
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.
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:
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.“
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.”