Artistic Terrence S. Orr recruited Pittsburgh native Tommie Kesten to the company from the PBT School Graduate Program, where she gained main-stage experience in PBT productions of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, PBT: New Works and West Side Story Suite. She’ll make her official company debut at PBT’s Aug. 19, Ballet Under the Stars performance at Hartwood Acres, followed by the company’s main-stage season opener Mozart in Motion in October. Get to know Tommie here.
Tell us about your…
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Family: “I am named after my oldest brother Tommy, who passed away before I was born. My other brother, Ty, passed away in 2016 while racing his dirt bike. He was only 17 and I was 15. My parents and I started a foundation to honor his life, 1sixfoundation.org. It brings a lot of comfort to make amazing donations in his name. Whenever I am on stage I am always performing for my big brothers in heaven.”
Pre-performance ritual: “I have been dancing since I was 2 years old. My mom would always say “Piece of cake” before I would walk on stage and I would say “Piece of pie” back to her. It just kind of became a ritual and we have stuck to it.”
Hobbies outside dance: “I enjoy riding my bike on trails and finding cute little coffee shops on Sunday mornings. I love playing with my bulldogs and realizing how precious life is; I love family time.”
Favorite food: “I’m kind of addicted to pretty much anything on the menu at DiAnoia’s and I am obsessed with cupcakes.”
Favorite musician right now: Bruno Mars
Ultimate dream role: George Balanchine’s Jewels
Favorite role to date: “Western Symphony, (which I performed in PBT School’s Pre-professional Showcases), is my favorite role so far. It has challenged me in so many ways and I had fun in every rehearsal.”
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist during your time in the PBT School Graduate Program?
“I feel I have grown as an artist during my first year at PBT as a grad student because PBT has given me so many performance opportunities. I have performed at PBT more in this one year than I have at any other program I have attended in the past. Also, the opportunities I’ve had to dance and perform with the company this year have been a great learning experience. Especially when I got to perform in Jessica McCann’s the silver line (in the March PBT: New Works program). I was alongside many principal and soloist dancers, so it was amazing to learn and dance so closely with them in a small setting. This is what I feel has prepared me most for a professional position.”
Describe your ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.
“I would describe my ballet “epiphany” as having a really special teacher, Mr. Piper, come into my life at the right time. His method of teaching made me fall in love with ballet. I became more and more interested every day and just knew that I was meant to pursue this amazing art form. When I started this year at PBT, I just felt it was the perfect place for me. It has been a dream to dance with this company since I was a little kid because I would always come to the shows growing up and wanted to see myself on that stage one day making my dreams come true.”
What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?
“Some of my personal goals for my first season as a company dancer would be to keep improving my technique and learn as much as I can from the dancers around me. (PBT Principal) Hannah Carter and (corps de ballet dancer) Jessica McCann have been so helpful already by letting me pick their brains and ask them questions about what to expect my first year. Also, when my partner and I were rehearsing Sugar Plum (pas de deux) on our own, (PBT Principal) Alejandro Diaz would just be walking by and he would always come in and give us tips on how to improve our dancing together. I am very thankful for their help and how warm and welcoming everyone has been.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?
“I would say the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer is working as hard as I can every day, to the point of exhaustion, and being able to go to bed every night feeling like I gave it all I’ve got. Being able to set a goal for myself and finally reaching that goal is one of the most fulfilling things to me. For me, it always has been and always will be about the personal growth.”
What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?
“I am most looking forward to dancing The Great Gatsby and Mozart in Motion (featuring works by George Balanchine and Jiří Kylián) next season!”
If I weren’t a ballet dancer, I would be…
“Although I can’t imagine my life without ballet, I would have to say if I weren’t a ballet dancer I would be a contemporary dancer since that is what I grew up doing.”