Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s long-time rehearsal director, Marianna Tcherkassky, has announced her retirement at the end of the 2022-2023 season. Tcherkassky has been a rehearsal director at PBT for 26 years. Prior to PBT, Tcherkassky danced with American Ballet Theatre for 26 years, 20 of which as a principal dancer.
“I have been so fortunate to enjoy two amazing careers, that as a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre for over two decades, and a second one as a Rehearsal Director for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, with the opportunity to help curate and bring to life through our beautiful dancers a prodigious array of repertoire,” Tcherkassky said. “I am deeply honored to have learned from and collaborated with all of the incredibly talented and dedicated artists in all aspects of my profession.”
In the ballet world, few individuals leave as profound an impact as Marianna Tcherkassky, Rehearsal Director at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT). Her expansive knowledge and expertise guide dancers to new heights, making her an irreplaceable asset. With her experience from her time as a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre to becoming a Rehearsal Director in Pittsburgh, her contributions are invaluable not only to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but the ballet community as a whole.
Marianna’s passion for dance blossomed at a young age. Raised in Maryland, she was surrounded by classical music, thanks to her mother, a professional dancer and her first teacher. Dancing became an outlet for her emotions and a way to create her own world.
At 14, Marianna earned a scholarship to George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York City. This opportunity paved the way for her audition and subsequent acceptance into the esteemed American Ballet Theatre (ABT) at just 17 years old. It was at ABT that her career took a pivotal turn.
In 1980, shortly before a performance of Giselle, Gelsey Kirkland, the lead ballerina, was injured. With limited time to spare, Mikhail Baryshnikov turned and asked Marianna to take on the role. Leaving only five days to prepare, she rehearsed tirelessly with Baryshnikov and delivered a breathtaking performance that garnered critical acclaim.
Throughout her career, Marianna continued to refine her artistry and expand her repertoire. Her unwavering dedication and pursuit of excellence made her a true force in the dance world. Today, as Rehearsal Director, she imparts her wisdom to a new generation of company and school dancers -inspiring them with her grace and passion.
Marianna believes that great dancers must also be great actors, emphasizing the importance of conveying emotion and storytelling through movement while dancing.
Beyond the studio, she finds inspiration in nature, observing its intricate balance and drawing parallels to the dance of life. Her dedication to the art form is steadfast and she feels fortunate to exist in a world where creativity, productivity and positivity converge.
Marianna Tcherkassky’s contributions to ballet are immeasurable. Her expertise, passion and dedication continue to shape the future of dance, leaving an enduring legacy that will inspire generations to come.
After retiring, Tcherkassky says there are many new possibilities on the horizon to which she looks forward, including spending time in nature, bird watching, visiting family and friends across the country and spending time with her husband Terry at his vintage car groups and shows.
A celebration of Marianna Tcherkassky’s career at Pittsburgh Ball Theatre is being planned to occur during the company’s December 2023 production of The Nutcracker. The event date and details will be announced soon.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) has just named Raymond Rodriguez as the organization’s first Dean of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, effective June 5, 2023. In this role, he will oversee the Children’s, Student and Pre-Professional divisions of PBT School. Rodriguez most recently served as the Academy Director of The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. To better introduce him to Pittsburgh audiences, we sat down with him and asked him to answer a few questions about himself.
Get to Know Raymond
What was the first ballet you ever danced in onstage?
The first ballet I danced in on stage was La Sylphide. I was a student at American Ballet Theatre School. I was selected to perform a children’s role in the Company’s production at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City, and my dance partner was no other than actress Sarah Jessica Parker.
What is your favorite part of overseeing a ballet school?
My favorite part of overseeing a ballet school is witnessing students grow and develop into skilled dancers and human beings. Dance is transformative. To see students learn self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-awareness and be creative individuals in this world is truly remarkable. Providing access and exposure can lead to life-changing opportunities.
What is your favorite ballet to watch?
My favorite ballet to watch is Romeo and Juliet, danced to the hauntingly beautiful Sergei Prokofiev score. It can be a profound emotional experience to witness the dancers’ storytelling combined with the lush musical score. The dancers need to execute technical expertise while simultaneously being storytellers, exhibiting vulnerability and acting nuances; dancers possessing both qualities lead to memorable performances for me.
What are you most excited to do in Pittsburgh?
I’m most excited to learn and explore the community and its diverse neighborhoods. In addition, I look forward to experiencing the city’s many cultural institutions.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I am pampering myself with a day at the spa with a deep-tissue massage.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spending a quiet day with my husband and fur baby is my guilty pleasure. In addition, I love to spend the day cooking and binge-watching the latest series on Netflix.
Where was your favorite vacation spot?
My favorite vacation spot, as of today, has been the Mexican beach resort of Puerto Vallarta. I’ve enjoyed discovering the local culture, diverse people, food, art galleries, vibrant nightlife of the iconic Malecon, and stunning sunsets.
If you could meet anyone in the world today, who would you meet?
I would love to meet actress, dancer, and singer Rita Moreno. The Puerto Rican star has been a trailblazer in the arts for seven decades, having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT) Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other accolades. She has been an inspiration to me and many other aspiring Latino performers.
What’s the food you usually refuse to share?
My mom’s arroz con gandules, pernil, and platano maduro.
What was the last song you had stuck in your head?
The Best by Tina Turner
Artistic Director Adam W. McKinney has promoted three artists for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) upcoming season, which runs from October 2023 to May 2024.
After the closing performance of The Sleeping Beauty on May 21, McKinney surprised the three company artists by announcing their promotions onstage. Those promoted were:
- Tommie Lin O’Hanlon of Pittsburgh, PA to Principal artist
- Grace Rookstool of Whidbey Island, WA to Soloist artist
- Madeline Gradle of Falls Church, VA to the Corps de Ballet
Additionally, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is pleased to welcome four promising artists into the company for the 2023-2024 season. The new hires resulted from PBT company auditions in April that saw more than 800 applicants in New York, Pittsburgh and online auditions. PBT’s newest members include:
- Gustavo Ribeiro, Soloist artist, from Miami City Ballet
- Matthew Griffin, Corps de Ballet, from Cincinnati Ballet
- Emry Amoky, Apprentice artist, from Houston Ballet ll
- Nathan Smith, Apprentice artist, from Miami City Ballet School
“I am honored and excited to promote Tommie, Grace and Madeline. They are inspiring artists who have worked tirelessly and deserve every bit of their successes,” said Adam W. McKinney, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s artistic director. “I am also thrilled to welcome Gustavo, Matthew, Emry and Nathan to PBT. They will make excellent additions to our artistic team, and I look forward to working closely with them.”
About PBT’s Newly Promoted Artists
Tommie Lin O’Hanlon has been promoted to Principal artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Pittsburgh native Tommie Lin joined PBT in 2018 from the PBT School Graduate Program, and was promoted to Soloist artist in 2020. She trained with Miami City Ballet School and Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, and completed summer intensives at the School of American Ballet and PBT School. She has performed in PBT productions of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, and 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 and Bluebird Pas de Deux in The Sleeping Beauty.
Grace Rookstool has been promoted to Soloist artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Grace was born and raised on Whidbey Island, Washington, and began her classical ballet training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle when she was eight years old. She completed the Professional Division Program and danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet in many productions, including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Grace was selected for an exchange program with Dresden Semperoper Ballett where she performed as a guest apprentice in La Bayadère. She joined PBT as a member of the Corps de Ballet in 2019.
Madeline Gradle has been promoted to PBT’s Corps de Ballet. A native of Falls Church, Virginia, she joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as an apprentice from the PBT School Graduate Program in 2021. Madeline received early dance training with Arlington Center for Dance and The Washington School of Ballet, and attended summer programs with American Ballet Theatre: New York, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell. Madeline danced as an apprentice with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet for four years, expanding her repertoire with George Balanchine’s Chaconne, Stars and Stripes, Tzigane and Walpurgisnacht, among others. She has performed with PBT in productions of George Balanchine’s Rubies, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Terrence S. Orr’s The Nutcracker. Additionally, Madeline enjoys teaching in the PBT School’s Children Division and PBT Dance & Wellness.
About PBT’s New Hires
Gustavo Ribeiro has been hired as a Soloist artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Gustavo was born in Vitoria, Brazil, and received full scholarships to Palucca Hochschule for Tanz Dresden- Germany, Joffrey Academy of Dance and Orlando Ballet School. Ribeiro was a soloist and former member of the Washington Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and most recently Miami City Ballet. Ribeiro is now a principal guest artist, teacher, choreographer and coach. He has performed in Brazil, Canada, Europe and across the USA. His repertoire includes featured roles in Petite Mort, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Three Preludes, The Four Temperaments, Diamonds, Piano Concerto no.2, Theme and Variations, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dracula, among other works choreographed by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, Val Caniparoli, Jiří Kylián and Stanton Welch. Ribeiro has also earned many awards for his excellence in choreography. He has choreographed for Kansas City Ballet, Orlando Ballet, among other companies and schools. He is also an American Ballet Theatre Curriculum and Progressing Ballet Technique certified instructor.
Matthew Griffin will be joining PBT’s Corps de Ballet for the 2023-24 season. Matthew began his ballet training in Sarasota, Florida at the International Ballet of Florida under the direction of Sergiy Mykhaylov and Darya Fedotova. Matthew graduated from Butler University (Indianapolis, IN) in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Dance Arts Administration degree. Griffin began his professional career with Cincinnati Ballet as an Apprentice for the 2017-2018 Season. He was promoted to New Dancer in 2018 and the Corps de Ballet in 2019. Griffin has performed featured roles in classical and contemporary ballets including Petal and Balance by Helen Pickett, Kiss by Stephanie Martinez, Cinderella by Victoria Morgan and works by Ohad Naharin, Twyla Tharp, Jiří Kylián, George Balanchine, Jennifer Archibald, Septime Webre, Amy Seiwert and others.
Emry Amoky is joining Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as an Apprentice for the 2023-2024 season. Emry trained at the Houston Ballet Academy and was a member of Houston Ballet ll. Some of the ballets he has performed in include Peter Pan, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Raymonda and Paquita.
Nathan Smith is joining Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as an Apprentice for the 2023-2024 season. He trained in the pre-professional program at Miami City Ballet School and the American Academy of Ballet. Some of the ballets in which he has performed include Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, The Nutcracker and Jerome Robbins’s 2&3 Part Inventions.
The Sleeping Beauty is a classical ballet that has been beloved worldwide for more than 130 years. It features the traditional fairy tale story of a princess cursed to eternal sleep who is awoken by true love’s kiss. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) will present The Sleeping Beauty May 19-21, 2023 at the Benedum Center.
While Princess Aurora never got the opportunity to prepare for her deep sleep, we asked some of the PBT artists what their favorite bedtime ritual is before they go to sleep each night.
Tickets and show information for The Sleeping Beauty can be found at pbt.org.
Principal Dancer at PBT
Roles in The Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora, Lilac Fairy
“I love my bed! I love my bed so much! If it was up to me I would get into bed every night as soon as my son is down, I’ve had dinner and showered! But my husband is the complete opposite, so we meet in the middle and I’m usually in bed about 10 pm. As someone that sits at a desk all day, he is very ready to be active and busy in the evenings while I am exhausted and just want to relax. If my body is feeling achy and I’ve had a hard day I usually have an Epsom salt bath (which I love as much as my bed) before I shower and usually take that time to do some extra skin care as well like a face mask or ice rolling, eye patches etc. After I’ve picked up the toys and cleaned the kitchen from dinner we like to sit down and watch an episode or two of whatever tv series we have going at the time, I usually last about 15 minutes before I fall asleep… and then wake up to my husband telling me I should go upstairs to bed, which I’ll happily oblige!”
Tommie Lin O’Hanlon
Soloist at PBT
Roles in The Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora, Princess Florine, Energy Fairy
“My favorite routine before I go to sleep includes lots of self-care! After getting in the door and playing with my puppies, I enjoy taking an Epsom salt bath to relax and soothe my sore muscles from the long rehearsal day I just had. Next, I shower and remove my makeup, starting my skincare routine. I double cleanse to make sure I’ve got all the sweat from the day off. When I get out of the shower, I actually sit with my feet in an ice bucket as I put all my “lotions and potions” on (such a great hack if you wanna multitask!).
After all that, I have dinner and relax on the couch for a while. Usually, I’m sewing pointe shoes during this step! Finally, I crawl into bed with my adorable little Frenchies, Pork and Beans, and we get our BEAUTY SLEEP! In true Aurora fashion!!”
Soloist at PBT
Roles in The Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora, Abundance Fairy, Diamond Jewel
“Lately, I’ve been falling asleep on the couch for a bit with my dog, Tiger. That’s after we’ve been listening to NPR on the radio or watching a silly TV show, like Broad City or Fresh Prince. Then, one of us decides it’s time to migrate to the bed. So I’ll wash my face, brush my teeth, and I’ve been putting some magnesium spray on my ankle, as of late. After that, I’m usually asleep pretty quickly, but if not, I might do a guided meditation or some light reading.”
The Sleeping Beauty ballet, originally choreographed in 1890 by Marius Petipa, is a masterpiece of choreography and music that has become beloved worldwide. In the 130 years since it premiered, it has become the epitome of the classical ballet art form. The idea for the ballet came from Ivan Vsevolozhsky, director of the Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1888. He envisioned a ballet that would not only tell the story of an enchanted princess but would also pay tribute to the opulent, 17th-century court of Louis XIV, a French king who loved ballet and who profoundly influenced the progression of ballet as an art form.
Because of this vision, the costumes for The Sleeping Beauty are also traditionally quite lavish. For the 2023 version of The Sleeping Beauty, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) has changed the costumes that it had used for the past 40 years. According to PBT Costume Director Kristin McLaiin, the costumes from the 2019 production were very regal, with intricate trims and fabric and more texture. The overall appearance of the stage was very compositional and painterly. McClain says the costumes for the 2023 production are much brighter and more defined. The costumes stand out as individual pieces, which allows for more storytelling, as the audience can visually identify characters more easily.
Below are some visual representations from PBT’s last version of The Sleeping Beauty in 2019 to this year’s updated version in 2023. The costumes from 2019 were rented from Boston Ballet and this year’s costumes will be rented from Charlotte Ballet, with a few exceptions that are noted.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present The Sleeping Beauty with the PBT Orchestra May 19-21, 2023. Tickets and show information can be found at pbt.org.
Both costumes are youthful, pink and feminine. The 2023 costume features stronger colors and more defined decorative elements, while the 2019 costume is more ornate and intricate.
Each fairy has a color to represent her character. In past versions, the colors were pastel with ornate and intricate trim. This year, each fairy still has a signature color, but they are brighter colors and feature leaf motifs.
Carabosse at PBT has traditionally worn a dress made up of a bodice and full skirt with a petticoat that was dark, earthy colors and had shredded and torn fabric as well as layers of fabric for texture.
Our new 2023 version of Carabosse consists of an androgynous unitard with barnacle/algae growing up the body. It is nature inspired– and reflects dark, mucky places. It has been created by the PBT Costume Department.
Puss-n-Boots and the White Cat
These storybook characters are cute, playful, fun in both the 2019 and 2023 versions. In 2019, the White Cat was detailed with ears and makeup, but in 2023, the cat details come from a half-mask. Our 2019 Puss was more princely with a jacket and tights. Today he looks more like his storybook counterpart with a cape and fur pants.
As with Princess Aurora and the fairies, the Lilac Fairy costume features bolder colors and more defined decorative elements compared to the pastel version from PBT’s 2019 production.
Sleeping Beauty casting is announced! Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will perform the majestic, family-friendly ballet The Sleeping Beauty with the PBT Orchestra as its 2022-23 season finale May 19-21st.
The Sleeping Beauty is one of the greatest of the classical story ballets, a tour de force of classical choreography and fairytale charm. The ballet comes to life with storybook scenery, glittering costumes and pristine choreography. Audiences of all ages will revel in the delightful dances by Princess Aurora and Prince Désiré, six fairies, the evil Carabosse and storybook characters including Puss ‘n Boots, the White Cat and the Bluebirds.
PBT will have four performances of The Sleeping Beauty all accompanied by the PBT Orchestra! All of the roles are performed by the talented artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.
Experience the last show in the 22-23 season
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is thrilled to announce that Emry Amoky and Nathan Smith will be joining PBT as company apprentices for the 23/24 season!
Emry Amoky trained at the Houston Ballet Academy and was a member of Houston Ballet ll. Some of the ballets he has performed in include Peter Pan, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Raymonda and Paquita.
Nathan Smith trained in the pre-professional program at the Miami City Ballet School and the American Academy of Ballet. Some of the ballets in which he has performed include Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, Jerome Robbins’ 2&3 Part Inventions, Mozart in D Major and The Nutcracker.
We had an opportunity to ask Nathan a bit more about himself:
Name: Nathan Smith
Hometown: Buffalo, New York
What are you most excited about doing in Pittsburgh?
I am most excited to explore the city of Pittsburgh and dance with PBT. Also, to learn and grow with new repertoire and to dance in the beautiful Benedum Center.
What is your favorite ballet?
My favorite ballet is Romeo and Juliet. I love the romance and passion of all the pas de deux and Romeo is my dream role.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not dancing?
When I’m not dancing I just like to relax in the comfort of my home surrounded by friends and family. I also enjoy time outdoors in nature and getting some sun.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure is definitely ice cream.
Check back soon to get to learn more about Emry Amoky.
One of the pieces in PBT’s The Masters Program: Balanchine and Beyond is Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. This is considered the breakthrough work of the Tony Award-winning choreographer. To stage the ballet, former New York City Ballet dancer and frequent Wheeldon repetiteur, Michele Gifford has traveled to Pittsburgh. We sat down with Michele to find out more about Polyphonia, her career and Wheeldon’s choreography.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your career.
I was at New York City Ballet from 1988 to 2000. I was just in the corps de ballet, but I had the opportunity to do many soloist and principal roles, which was amazing. Then I left New York and had a son. I’m from Texas originally and my husband and I wanted to be closer to our parents. I ended up joining Texas Ballet Theatre, which at the time was called Fort Worth / Dallas Ballet. It became Texas Ballet Theater when Ben Stevenson took over. I danced for Ben for several years and had my daughter and then went back to dancing for another year at Texas Ballet Theatre. Then I decided to freelance, and I freelanced for 10 years. So I retired from performing when I was 46. I had a really nice long career, I’m very lucky. Now I have a Gyrotonic studio and I stage Balanchine and I stage Wheeldon.
You have been staging works by renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon for some time. When did you two first meet?
I met Chris when he was a dancer with The Royal Ballet and he came in to take a company class at New York City Ballet.
What is Mr. Wheeldon’s creation process like?
He is very fun in the studio and always wants the best for the dancers as well as the piece. He is also extremely musical.
How does Mr. Wheeldon approach his ballet works?
Chris’s vocabulary is based on classical ballet so you’re using classical vocabulary. The interesting thing that comes from it is how you get from Point A to Point B. And then it just builds on that depending on who’s in the room or who he’s inspired by.
Tell us a bit about Polyphonia
It’s 4 couples and is about 28 minutes long. Christopher Wheeldon choreographed this in 2001 as a trilogy using the same composer. He did Polyphonia and then a ballet called Morphoses with New York City Ballet and then he did a ballet called Continuum with San Francisco Ballet.
How would you describe this ballet in one sentence?
Wheeldon describes it as a collection of moods in a sketchbook of movement. I can completely see that because it doesn’t really tie together, but yet it does. It’s like you’re looking through somebody’s diary – or you’re looking through a sketchbook, where each page is a different mood. How he chose to arrange the music is great too.
Why did Wheeldon choose this complex music?
He said he found a CD at a listening station at Tower Records in New York. He said he was terrified of its complexity but needed to push himself away from instantly accessible melodic music there was something about the discordance, spikiness, the knottiness of the music that attracted him – a dark romance
A fun fact is that he also played a section of the ballet called “the wedding” and it’s one of the duets he said he played at school and he remembered finding it difficult but haunting.
Does the music change throughout the piece?
Yes, it goes from crazy music to a romantic story. The music from the first movement is called Disorder. It’s a very hard piece to play and challenging to dance as well.
Each section is very different from the next. It’s interesting on the ear, it’s interesting on the eye, visually, so it’s an all-encompassing work. The last duet has become one of Wheeldon’s signature duets.
What are some of the challenges for the dancers in this piece?
I think the only movement that’s hard because of the rhythm is the first movement. The rest of it is singable. The finale, the last movement, has counts as well but I think when you really start listening to it and stop counting, you get into the groove of the music. I think the dancers are doing great.
Why is this ballet one of your favorite Mr. Wheeldon pieces?
These kinds of ballets are actually my wheelhouse. This is how my brain works, it’s how my body worked as a dancer. I would feel more comfortable in something like this. It’s how I moved, the athleticism behind it.
Christopher Wheeldon also created and choreographed MJ the Musical on Broadway, correct?
Yes, he did. Chris said when he was young at Royal Ballet School all of his friends had ballet posters of all the famous dancers- Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Godunov. He had a poster of Michael Jackson. Isn’t that amazing – like it was always meant to be.
About Michele Gifford
Michele began her training at Dallas Metropolitan Ballet. At 16 she attended New York City Ballet’s School of American Ballet on full scholarship and at 18 became a member of the company. In her 12-year career at NYCB Michele performed soloist and principal roles in Balanchine’s Apollo, Rubies, Agon, and Stars and Stripes, among others. She originated many roles, including in Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story Suite and Christopher Wheeldon’s Slavonic Dances. In 2000, Michele joined Texas Ballet Theater, where she performed principal roles in Ben Stevenson’s Coppelia and Dracula along with many Balanchine works. Michele was in demand as a guest artist and joined Bruce Wood Dance Company where she was also Company Manager.
Michele has taught throughout the country including at Ballet West, Boston Ballet, and Indiana University. She is a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust and Christopher Wheeldon. She owns a Gyrotonic studio and is passionate about passing on her knowledge of movement to people from all walks of life.
About Christopher Wheeldon
Christopher Wheeldon is Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet and a choreographer who has created and staged productions for many of the world’s major ballet companies. He is a lauded dancer who trained at The Royal Ballet School and joined the company in 1991; in 1993 he joined New York City Ballet and was promoted to Soloist in 1998. He retired from dancing in 2000 to focus on choreography and was named NYCB’s first Resident Choreographer in 2001, choreographing Polyphonia that same year.
Mr. Wheeldon’s choreographic range is remarkable, encompassing contemporary works, full-length ballets, Broadway musicals and more. A short list includes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Winter’s Tale, and most recently, Like Water for Chocolate (2022) for The Royal Ballet; Cinderella for Het Nationale Ballet (restaged for English National Ballet and performed extensively by other companies); “Dance of the Hours” for La Gioconda and Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera; and ballet and dance sequences for the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremonies and the feature film Center Stage. Broadway credits include the musicals Sweet Smell of Success, An American in Paris and MJ the Musical (2022) the latter two garnering him Tony Awards for Best Choreography.
Additional awards include the Outer Critics Award for Best Choreography and Direction for An American in Paris, the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, the American Choreography Award, the Dance Magazine Award, South Bank Show Award, multiple London Critics’ Circle Awards and the Léonide Massine Prize for new choreography. Mr. Wheeldon is an Olivier Award winner twice over and was named an Order of the British Empire. He is an Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom, residing in New York City.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has announced casting for The Masters Program: Balanchine and Beyond with the PBT Orchestra. This mixed repertory program features three works from internationally acclaimed, award-winning ballet choreographers. The pieces showcase classical dancing with contemporary twists, heightened by live music from the PBT Orchestra.
The program includes Jorma Elo’s intricate 1st Flash, Tony Award-winner Christopher Wheeldon’s moody and romantic Polyphonia, and the exquisite Theme and Variations from George Balanchine, the father of 20th-century American ballet.
The Masters Program: Balanchine and Beyond runs April 14-16 at the Benedeum Center.
Browse our photo gallery and go behind the scenes of studio rehearsals for this performance.
Artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre | Photos: Aviana Adams
Learn more about our artists
As part of The Master Program: Balanchine and Beyond, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will perform George Balanchine’s opulent Theme and Variations from April 14 through 16 at the Benedum Center.
Balanchine, a Russian-born dancer/choreographer, is regarded as the most influential choreographer of classical ballet in the United States. He is often called the “Father of American Ballet” due to his influence in paving the way for ballet to flourish in America. He is credited with developing the neo-classical style distinct to the 20th century and is well-known for his modern-yet-classical, clean aesthetic. His trademarks include lighter costumes, minimal decor, faster movements, challenging choreography and plotless ballets.
His 1954 staging of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is probably his most famous work. It is the version best known for making the ballet an annual holiday tradition throughout the United States. It has been performed in New York City annually since 1954 and still continues its run there, as well as in nearly every city across America and throughout the World.
15 Fun Facts About George Balanchine:
- Balanchine is credited with creating 465 ballets, which have been performed by nearly every ballet company across the world.
- He choreographed his first ballet La Nuit in 1920 at the age of 16.
- In addition to attending the Imperial Theater Ballet School in Russia to study dance and choreography, Balanchine also enrolled at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music and studied piano, musical theory and composition.
- During the Russian Revolution, he played the piano in cabarets and silent movie houses for food and drink (when money was worthless).
- He co-founded both the School of American Ballet (1934) and American Ballet (1935), later re-christened the New York City Ballet (1948).
- He served as the artistic director of the New York City Ballet from 1935 until his death, on April 30, 1983.
- In total, he married and divorced four times – all to ballet dancers. His first marriage began when he was 18 years old and his bride, Tamara Geva, was just 15 years old.
- Known as a bit of a ladies’ man, Balanchine would give his various girlfriends different perfumes so he could distinguish who was coming down the hall.
- Balanchine loved to cook and in 1966 participated in a cookbook called The Ballet Cook Book with other ballet dancers and choreographers. Some of his recipes include blinis, beet borschok, “fish dinner for two” and “banana sweet.”
- He discovered a love for America that extended to all aspects of the culture. He wore western shirts and string ties and delighted in American TV commercials, often weaving phrases plucked from those commercials into rehearsals.
- Balanchine was proud to become an American citizen and made sure to vote at each and every election. He took jury duty so seriously that he refused to discuss any details of the cases he sat on, with even his closest friends.
- He worked with Claude Debussy, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Coco Chanel at various times.
- In addition to ballet, Balanchine choreographed Hollywood movies and Broadway musicals.
- A crater on Mercury was named in his honor.
- George Balanchine Way is a segment of West 63rd Street (located between Columbus Avenue and Broadway) in New York City that was renamed in his honor in June 1990.
Creating the perfect look for an occasion – whether it’s onstage at a ballet or for a party – is a crucial part of any event. Below are some tips on how to create a fairytale look, a take on the Ballet Core style that is popular today. This look is very elegant and traditional, with a bit of whimsy.
Kristin McLain, Costume Director at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, shared some ideas for how to translate the elements of fairytale ballet costumes into your own look for special occasions. According to McLain, “whether you go full costume or just sprinkle in a few elements, it’s easy to give any outfit a fairytale touch.”
- Incorporate historical elements into your outfit. In dresses, this could be corseted or more structured bodices, full skirts or adding a petticoat to make a skirt fuller. Also, look for dresses with trains or bustles, and add ruffles around the bust or cuffs. For a suit or other menswear, a blousy fabric will give an immediate historical look, as well as a higher collar, ruffles, and fuller sleeves. Additionally, jackets and vests that fit close to the body will have a formal, regal look. And for any piece, the more trim and appliques the better.
- Accessories! Costume jewelry, especially with jewels, will add a nice touch. Stacked necklaces, dangly earrings and even hair accessories will make a strong statement. Menswear should stay away from ties and try a ruffled scarf knotted at the neck. Gloves, capes or capelets and hats also work if you really want to go all out.
- True historical footwear is going to be character shoes or boots. Anything close-toed will give more of a fairy tale impression. A jewel or brooch on the tops of the shoes can be a nice touch. Patterned tights can also be fun.
- Hair can be simple or elaborate, depending on your look. Braids either loose or in an updo are a staple for a more girlish or everyday look–try braiding a ribbon through. For formal hairstyles, updos and curls all over, as well as barrettes, tiaras, or jewels. Men’s hair would be combed away from the face, and facial hair or sideburns could be accentuated or drawn on with makeup.
Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty
This costume is from PBT’s production of The Sleeping Beauty in 2023. It is a classical tutu and bodice made from white brocade and embellished with silver applique, beading, and jewels. And of course, every princess needs her jewelry and crown!
Artist: Joanna Schmidt; Photographer: Duane Rieder
Belle in Beauty and the Beast
Here is Beauty from PBT’s production of Beauty and the Beast, last performed in 2020. This is a romantic tutu that includes layers of tulle under the purple skirt. These details are a combination of fabric embellishment with hand-painted gold highlights. Of course, she’s wearing her tiara, and the arm puffs–while not strictly historical–are a common accessory in many ballets.
Artist: Marisa Grywalski; Photographer: Duane Rieder
Carabosse in The Sleeping Beauty
This is the costume for Carabosse from PBT’s 2018 production of The Sleeping Beauty. Carabosse is also known as Maleficent in books and movies. The costume is a severe, yet elegant, black gown with a scoop neckline and plenty of sparkle and jewels. A wicked, spiky crown completes the ensemble.
Artist: Eun Yung Ahn : Photographer: Rich Sofranko
The Beast as the Prince in Beauty and the Beast
In Beauty and The Beast, we watch as a monster turns into a prince. Here is the wedding jacket that the Prince wears after he’s transformed. This is a vest and sleeves made of orange silk and embellished with intricate beading on the chest and around the waist.
Artist: Alejandro Diaz; Photographer: Rich Sofranko
Alice in Wonderland
The costumes in Alice in Wonderland help tell the story that this is a place of madness. The Mad Hatter has a suit jacket made of velvet, hand-sewn checkered spandex pants, a brocade vest and a silk tie–many patterns and fabrics all together! Many of the other characters in the ballet have clashing patterns and colors. However, Alice is always in her innocent blue dress.
Artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre; Photographer: Rich Sofranko
Cinderella’s Ballgown from Cinderella
Cinderella’s costume is a delicate, dusty pink brocade with a pink tulle skirt. Everything about this dress is light, airy, and sweet. What better dress to wear to a ball!
Artist: Alexis Kochas; Photographer: Duane Rieder
Reserve Your Spot at our Fractured Fairy Tales Dance Party
Amanda Cochrane, principal dancer at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, announced her retirement on Feb. 27, 2023. Amanda has danced with PBT for 14 years. Due to an ankle injury, Cochrane was not able to give a final performance. She joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2009, advanced to soloist in 2012 and to principal in 2014. In 2013, Amanda was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”. We talked to Amanda about her career, love of ballet and future plans.
Why did you choose to begin ballet?
I started ballet classes very early on in my life, so I have been a dancer for as long as I can remember. My parents could see how much I loved to dance and when I became old enough, they began sending me to summer ballet programs around the country to expand my knowledge of the ballet world. I was captivated by the artistry, athleticism and challenges that were presented to me at home and abroad. I continued my ballet training in Washington and focused on my high school studies while simultaneously attending college. After two years training with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Graduate Program, I happily accepted a contract as a professional in the company. Ever since, I have been in disbelief that I could have been so fortunate to have this amazing career.
What is your favorite dance step?
If I had to pick, I would say a saut de chat or any type of traveling jump. I love the feeling of flying through space. I would travel as much as I could in the steps leading up to a saut de chat to gain the maximum momentum to launch myself across the studio. It was an invigorating sense of freedom. It was especially exhilarating when I had a dance partner to toss me into the air.
What is your favorite ballet you danced in?
I have so many favorites. They are each special to me in a unique way. Swan Lake was a ballet I grew up watching and imagining myself dancing one day. It was a truly epic moment for me when I was given the opportunity to perform the dual role of Odette/Odile. I cried quiet tears of joy at the start of my first black swan rehearsal. Sharing the room with women who had inspired me since my beginnings at PBT while rehearsing a variation I had always dreamed of dancing was overwhelming. I loved performing this role because of the depth and range of the two characters you portray, as well as the challenging choreography that is displayed. My three favorite moments to perform in this ballet were the serre devant at the end the white swan adagio, signifying her heartbeat when she falls in love with Prince Siegfried. The coda of black swan pas de deux, during Odile’s backwards hops in arabesque after she has Prince Siegfried wrapped around her little finger. And the heart-wrenching moment that Odette decides to end the tyranny of Rothbart by jumping off a cliff. I must add, the satisfying feeling of falling onto a mattress at the end of a show is something I’ll never forget!
What was your favorite role?
It is again hard to choose, but for now I will tell you about Giselle. For me, one of the best parts of rehearsing Giselle was being coached by Marianna Tcherkassky. She was an iconic Giselle and had so much knowledge to pass onto me. Having such an amazing role model made the experience so special. The story of Giselle highlights the consequences of betrayal and the lengths we will go to for love. The character, Giselle, had a vast capacity for forgiveness and protects a man that has broken her heart to the point of death. It was one of the most emotional stories I have had the privilege of performing. I loved the opening playful dialogue between her and Albrecht. It was so pure and innocent. The portrayal of falling into madness at the end of act one was a truly interesting part of Giselle’s character and one that took many hours of contemplation, coaching and rehearsal. I also loved the challenge of acting like a Wili in act two. Appearing like you’re floating across a stage brings a whole new approach to the way you dance. The ending of Giselle, as she floats down into her grave, chokes me up every time.
What ballet did you not have the opportunity to dance in, but wish you had?
George Balanchine’s Diamonds. I had the opportunity to briefly rehearse this beautiful ballet back in the fall of 2019, but unfortunately was never able to perform it onstage due to the Covid-19 shut down in the spring of 2020. My favorite part of rehearsing Diamonds was the solo in one of the scherzos. It was so musical, and you got to travel and take up all the space in the room.
What will you miss most about PBT?
I will miss all the incredible people I have met and learned from along the way. I will miss being a part of the creativity that happens in these studios. I will miss telling all the love stories and fairytales to Pittsburgh audiences. This retirement is very bittersweet for me and one of the most difficult decisions of my life. I wish my ankle had recovered to a state in which I could continue to be a successful ballerina, however, it is now time for me to move onward to a new stage in my life.
What is your favorite PBT memory?
The many post-performance hugs, celebrations and congratulations between friends and colleagues. There is something so special about a group of people supporting and celebrating each other after weeks of hard work.
What are your favorite non-dance hobbies?
I love outdoor activities. I often go hiking with my husband and Hazelnut, our dog. We love the serenity and beauty of nature. During the summer months we like to go paddle boarding and have even started taking our dog onboard! When I’m not off adventuring, I enjoy curling up by the fire with a good book.
What are your plans for the future?
My husband and I are relocating to my hometown in Washington. We are so excited to be closer to our families and may even start one of our own. We will miss the amazing city of Pittsburgh and all our friends. We are so grateful for all the memories!
Photography: Rich Sofranko
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) is proud to announce the company’s exciting 2023-2024 season lineup, featuring three full-length story ballets and two mixed repertory programs. The season includes works from internationally acclaimed choreographers, family-friendly favorites and pieces to be selected by new artistic director Adam W. McKinney. This will be McKinney’s first opportunity to leave his imprint on the repertoire of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
The five-ballet season runs October 2023 through May 2024 and includes: Light in the Dark, The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast, Spring Mix with the PBT Orchestra and Cinderella with the PBT Orchestra.
“This season is really one of celebration here at PBT. This year we are bringing old and new audience favorites, including Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, as well as Helen Pickett’s glorious Petal, and one of Geroge Balanchine’s most iconic works, Allegro Brilliante,” said PBT Acting Executive Director Kathryn Gigler. “We also look forward to presenting a world premiere by Jennifer Archibaldin partnership with Violins of Hope Greater Pittsburgh. We’re excited to invite all of Pittsburgh to come dance with us!”
2023-2024 PBT SEASON LINEUP
LIGHT IN THE DARK
OCTOBER 27 – 29, 2023 | BYHAM THEATER
Choreography: Jennifer Archibald, Barak Marshall, Sasha Janes and Anabelle Lopez Ochoa | Music: Samuel Barber, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Our season opener tells powerful stories of tragedy, hope and human connection. The program’s central work, Sounds of the Sun, is a world premiere by Jennifer Archibald, which celebrates the life of Florence Waren, a Jewish dancer who lived in Paris and worked with the French Resistance during World War II. Also included in this momentous production is the emotional Monger, created by award-winning Israeli American choreographer Barak Marshall. Monger follows the lives of a group of people trapped in the house of an abusive mistress. Completing this stunning program are two incredibly gorgeous and intense ballets – Loss by Sasha Janes and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Lacrimosa.
The world premiere by Jennifer Archibald is presented in partnership with Violins of Hope Greater Pittsburgh.
DECEMBER 8 – 28, 2023 | BENEDUM CENTER
Choreography & Staging: Terrence S. Orr | Music: P.I. Tchaikovsky
Celebrate the most delightful time of year with one of Pittsburgh’s most cherished holiday traditions – The Nutcracker! Join Marie, her Nutcracker prince and hundreds of fascinating characters for an unforgettable adventure through the Land of Enchantment. Revel in the stunning scenes, spectacular costumes, sparkling snowflakes and instantly recognizable Tchaikovsky score. The Nutcracker will sweep you into the most magical time of the year.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
FEBRUARY 16 – 25, 2024 | BENEDUM CENTER
Choreography: Lew Christensen I Music: P.I.Tchaikovosky
Experience this timeless romantic tale about the transformative power of love, played out against the backdrop of an enchanted forest full of magical creatures. This full-length classical ballet has gorgeous costumes, magnificent choreography, whimsical characters and sets that come alive. The captivating Beauty and the Beast is sure to delight both the young and the young at heart.
SPRING MIX with the PBT Orchestra
APRIL 5 – 7, 2024 | BENEDUM CENTER
Choreography: George Balanchine, Jae Man Joo, Helen Pickett | Music: P.I. Tchaikovsky, Philip Glass and Thomas Montgomery Newman, and composers to be announced.
Our spring mixed repertory program will be fresh as a daisy, featuring pieces selected by Adam W. McKinney in his new role as PBT’s artistic director, including a commissioned world premiere by Pittsburgh-based choreographer, Princess Grace Award Recipient Choreographer Jae Man Joo. Also lighting up the Benedum stage will be the vibrant colors and high energy of Helen Pickett’s sparkling Petal and the exhilarating piece George Balanchine declared “everything I know about classical ballet in thirteen minutes,” his exuberant and joyous Allegro Brilliante.
CINDERELLA with the PBT Orchestra
MAY 17 – 19, 2024 | BENEDUM CENTER
Will Cinderella dance her way to the royal ball and meet her prince before the clock strikes midnight? Get swept away by this beloved, entrancing rags to romance story. This full-length ballet is a treat for the whole family, brimming with true love, classical choreography, magnificent costumes & sets and – of course – a fairy tale ending that’s just the perfect fit.
2023-2024 subscriptions, available in packages of 5,4 and 3 ballets, start at $82.50 and are on sale now at pbt.org/subscribe or by calling 412-454-9107. Subscribers receive exclusive benefits, including first access to the best seats and 20% savings over single tickets.
Groups purchasing eight or more tickets save up to 50%. More information is available at pbt.org/groups.
Single tickets to individual performances will go on sale at a future date to be announced.
PBT’s Pittsburgh premiere of Michael Pink’s world-renowned Dracula, will open on Friday, February 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Benedum Center. There are only 4 performances – Feb. 10 through 12 – of this internationally famous and wildly popular dance drama. Tickets can be purchased here.
Pink’s vision of Dracula is truly unlike any other ballet as it combines intense drama, exquisite storytelling, theatrical choreography and seductive sensuality into an enticing and riveting performance. Pink, artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet and choreographer of Dracula, shares some insights into the production.
Q: When did you first create/choreograph this Dracula ballet?
Originally I created it for Northern Ballet in the UK in 1996 to coincide with the centenary publication of Bram Stoker’s novel.
Q: What inspired you to create this version of Dracula?
The novel was the source of inspiration. The creative team: Myself and Christopher Gable, Designer Lez Brotherston and composer Philip Feeney all wanted to stay as true to the book as possible.
Q: How is it different from other versions?
The original score, Gothic setting and theatricality separate it from all other dance versions. The attention to detail and storytelling make it compelling from the first moment to the last.
Q: Why do you think the character of Dracula has such universal appeal?
Dracula has become more of a romantic figure than Bram Stoker created. He has sex-appeal despite his disregard for human life.
Q: How do audiences react to it?
Audiences react with great enthusiasm. Dracula is a bit of a Rock Star!
Q: If you were a character in Dracula, who would you be and why?
I guess it would be big D himself. In creating the production, I felt an instant affinity with the character. His stillness and effortless movement are powerful, perfect for dance.
Watch an Interview with Michael
About Michael Pink
Michael Pink is the longest serving artistic director in Milwaukee Ballet history. Since joining the Company in December of 2002, he established himself as a prominent member of the Milwaukee arts community, demonstrating his commitment to the future of dance through new work, education and collaboration.
His artistic vision for Milwaukee Ballet continues to be exciting and challenging. His long-awaited production of Peter Pan signified a major landmark in the Company’s history and was broadcast nationally by PBS in spring of 2014. His production of Romeo & Juliet has also been broadcast by MPBS. In 2008, the Wisconsin Dance Council presented Pink with the Choreography/Performance Award. In 2014, the Milwaukee Press Club honored him with the Headliner Award for service to the arts. He received the Civic Music Association’s award for Distinguished Citizen – Professional in the Arts in 2015. In 2019 he received the Educational Excellence Award from the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, which recognizes organizational achievement of a nonprofit that exemplifies collaboration in the arts.
Pink is an international choreographer whose theatrical productions of Dracula, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Swan Lake, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, La Bohème, Don Quixote, Mirror Mirror, Dorian Gray and Beauty and the Beast have been hailed as ‘Classical Ballet for the 21st Century.’ His first professional work, 1914, was nominated for a West End Theatre Award, London.
His early choreographic work won him first place in the Frederick Ashton and the Royal Society of Arts Choreographic Competitions. He has worked as répétiteur for Rudolf Nureyev at the Paris Opera and La Scala Milan. He trained as a classical dancer at The Royal Ballet School and danced with English National Ballet 1975 to 1985.
Pink was the founding director of Ballet Central in London; he also served as associate artistic director of Northern Ballet.
He continues to build strong working relationships with other Milwaukee Arts groups, where his credits include A Christmas Carol, Assassins, Cabaret and Next to Normal for Milwaukee Repertory Theater, as well as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Matilda for First Stage.
About Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has been Pittsburgh’s premier professional ballet company since 1969. Today, PBT is a nationally recognized ballet company of 30 professional dancers, a training institution for over 1,200 students of all ages, and an incubator for education and accessibility programs in classrooms, libraries and community centers throughout the region. The company performs a wide-ranging repertoire of classical ballets, contemporary masterworks and new commissions in more than 50 performances annually at home and on tour.
PBT will be staging Michael Pink’s world-renowned Dracula for the first time ever in Pittsburgh. The ballet has been viewed and lauded by millions of people worldwide. The powerful choreography and edge-of-your-seat drama in this entrancing production create a provocative and riveting performance. You’ll be enthralled by the exquisite costumes, gothic scenery and dramatic score in this provocative tale of bloodlust and suspense. All of the roles are performed by the talented artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School.
Dracula will be at the Benedum Center February 10-12, 2023
View Dracula enrichment experiences and the performance schedule here.
Check out interviews with Michael Pink and Soloists Tommie Lin O’Hanlon and Corey Bourbonniere.