Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has promoted three Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers to soloists for the 2018-2019 Season, which kicks off in October. We sat down with Masahiro Haneji, of Hokkaido, Japan; William Moore, of Ipswich, England; and JoAnna Schmidt of Eustis, Florida, to learn more about their motivations, goals and growth. Then, see them on stage in UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free, May 4-6, at the Benedum Center.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist this season?
MH: “The 2017-18 season was a very concentrated year for myself as an artist. I was able to truly commit to all the new roles and the opportunities given to me without any distractions as well as a great team to support me throughout the year. Roles such as Renfield (Dracula) and Jester (Swan Lake) whose personalities carry such a vital role in the ballet’s dynamic challenged me to perform technically difficult variations while staying in character. I cannot wait to add more personalities to my (hopefully) never-ending list of characters with the upcoming performance of a sailor in Fancy Free and a Shark in West Side Story Suite.”
WM: “Dancing at PBT gives you the opportunity to dance a large range of different styles, which will always make you grow as an artist. In addition, this year I took on the challenge of choreographing my own work on the company for the March PBT: New Works program. Having the chance to explore my own ideas has helped me broaden my understanding of what it is to be an artist/dancer and has given me another way of looking at dance. ”
JS: “I’ve started to dance for my own fulfillment more this year. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s something that took me far too long to learn. I used to assume everybody shared the same, hypercritical opinion of my dancing that I have and it was such a distraction. Worrying about all the ways you might not measure up certainly doesn’t allow much room for growth. Now, when it’s time to perform, I’ve tried not to pressure myself, to let go and enjoy the moment instead of dwelling on potential failure.”
What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a soloist?
MH: “As a soloist I cannot wait for the opportunities to work on more featured roles that will help broaden my abilities to improve on challenges I have yet to face as a corps de ballet member — such as standing out as an individual rather than matching my fellow dancers.”
WM: “Every year as a dancer I like to set new goals. I think some for next year will be to stay healthy and take on each program with a fresh mindset so I can give as much to each role as I possibly can.”
JS: “I aspire to become more dynamic, to take more risks and push the boundaries in my dancing.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a professional ballet dancer?
MH: “There’s no real way to explain why performing gives a rush of happiness like no other, but the simplest way to explain it is the feeling that you are creating a dream come true for the audience. When I am performing, I am no longer the person I am off stage; I have the chance to show the audience something they’ve never seen before or will ever see again as each performance is unique.”
WM: “For me, being in the studio developing a role is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a professional dancer. From the first rehearsal to the show is such a journey and collaboration with everyone. It’s great to be a part of such an exciting experience!”
JS: “There are so many ways it is fulfilling, but there’s something about dance that is uniquely exposing. When you dance, those who watch you are going to see who you really are, whether you like it or not. I think it’s beautiful to be taken out of your comfort zone in that way. Dancers can’t hide who they are…unless they want to stifle their artistry. I’m a pretty introverted person, so dance forces me to make myself visible.”
What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?
MH: “Among next season’s performances I am most excited to perform The Sleeping Beauty again. My first year as a company member I was given the opportunity to perform the role of Bluebird with fellow company member JoAnna Schmidt. I am really looking forward to see how much I have matured both technically and as an artist since my premiering year in 2014.”
WM: “I’m a huge Jiří Kylián fan, so i would have to go with the first program (Mozart in Motion), although the whole season will be great!”
JS: “I am looking forward to all the productions, but especially the Mozart in Motion program because it will be challenging to incorporate the brilliant styles of Balanchine and Kylián!”