Emerging talents of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School will take the stage for two May productions in downtown Pittsburgh, showcasing student dancers from the beginning of their training journey to the cusp of their professional stage careers. Here’s who and what you can expect to see.
When: May 18-20
Where: Point Park University, George Rowland White Performance Studio, 201 Wood Street
Who: PBT School pre-professional students
What: Did you know that more than half of PBT’s company roster were recruited from PBT School’s Pre-professional Division? At these special showcases, you can scout emerging talent and get the first look at newly signed company dancers Tommie Kesten and Christian García Campos. Plus, guess who might be joining the company next (hint: exciting news coming later this week). See aspiring professional dancers perform new works choreographed by PBT School faculty members and PBT Principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano, along with David Lichine’s one-act Graduation Ball, excerpts from George Balanchine’s Western Symphony and Paquita with choreography after Marius Petipa.
Tickets: $25 at www.pbt.org or 412-454-9107
Spring Performance 2018
When: May 25-26
Where: Byham Theater, 101 6th St.
Who: 200+ students of PBT School’s Student and Pre-professional Divisions
What: Experience classical and contemporary works performed by budding ballet dancers to polished pre-professionals. In addition to the Pre-professional Showcase works above, see the training journey come full circle as students in Preparatory Ballet through the Graduate Program take the stage together in a work conceived by PBT School faculty members and inspired by the classical ballet Coppélia.
Tickets: $26-36 at www.pbt.org or 412-456-6666
PBT’s May 4-6, production of UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free is part of a nationwide, year-long celebration of the 100th birthdays of choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein. They collaborated on several important works, including the ballet Fancy Free (the basis for the hit musical On the Town) and the Broadway and film sensation, West Side Story.
Here are five things you should know about Jerome Robbins, the dance icon behind PBT’s season finale production of UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free:
1. He started young. Jerome Robbins was just 24 years old when he began choreographing his first ballet and claim to fame, Fancy Free, which later inspired the Broadway hit On the Town. At the time, Robbins was still dancing as a founding company member of Ballet Theatre (now American Ballet Theatre) and had to create the ballet on the fly – between stops, on the tour bus and in hotel lobbies. Fancy Free was an instant sensation, sparking 22 curtain calls at the time of its premiere. In the ballet Robbins and Bernstein (and designer Oliver Smith) capture a moment in wartime New York that they – and the original audience – were all living in. Smith’s spare and wistful set design and Bernstein’s jazzy score create an atmosphere that is – to this day – undeniably American. Robbins’ first try at professional choreography signaled his genius for natural, spontaneous movement that adeptly reveals character and relationships.
2. He was an iconic choreographer in ballet…Following his choreographic debut at American Ballet Theatre, Robbins joined New York City Ballet and quickly ascended to the post of associate artistic director, working alongside George Balanchine. With the exception of brief sabbaticals, Robbins worked with NYCB from 1949 until his death in 1998 and created many of his great works there. Among the more than 60 ballets he created during his career are Fancy Free, Afternoon of a Faun, The Concert, Dances At a Gathering, In the Night, In G Major, Other Dances, Glass Pieces and Ives, Songs, which are in the repertories of New York City Ballet and other major dance companies worldwide. His final ballets include A Suite of Dances created for Mikhail Baryshnikov (1994), 2 & 3 Part Inventions (1994), West Side Story Suite (1995) and Brandenburg (1996).
3. And on Broadway. In addition to his work in the ballet world, Robbins is world renowned for his work as a director and choreographer in theater, movies and television. His Broadway shows include On the Town, Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, Peter Pan, Miss Liberty, Call Me Madam and Fiddler on the Roof. His last Broadway production, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (1989), won six Tony Awards including best musical and best director.
4. He is an icon in dance with the awards and accolades to back it up. In addition to two Academy Awards for the film West Side Story, Robbins has received five Tony Awards, including best choreography for West Side Story, five Donaldson Awards, an Emmy Award, the Screen Directors’ Guild Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Robbins was a 1981 Kennedy Center Honors Recipient and was awarded the French Chevalier dans l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur.
5. He worked with one of our own. PBT Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr remembers Jerome Robbins as exacting, intuitive and genuinely genius. Over his three decades with American Ballet Theatre, first as a principal dancer and then as the company’s ballet master, Orr worked repeatedly with Robbins – in the studio as a dancer and later as a repetiteur for his works. “I’ll never forget Jerry’s genius for the details that make a masterpiece,” Orr said. “Fancy Free, in particular, holds a special place in my heart. I had the privilege of learning one of the sailor parts from original cast member John Kriza and dancing the role for many years with ABT. We plan to do Jerry proud with this program.”
And to think: In the 1930s, Robbins intended to study either chemistry or journalism at New York University until the Depression depleted his family’s ability to support his education. It was then that Robbins returned to his early aptitude for music, dancing and theatrics. The rest is Broadway and ballet history.
Experience the PBT premieres of three Robbins masterworks in UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free on stage with the PBT Orchestra May 4-6, at the Benedum Center. Get your tickets here.
In West Side Story Suite, PBT dancers won’t just be dancing…they’ll add singing to their repertoire too.
In honor of international centennial celebrations for choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein, PBT will be bringing ballet fans a triple threat of company premieres — and acting, singing and dancing performances — in UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free on stage May 4-6, at the Benedum Center.
To prepare for their vocal debuts, the dancers have been working with Joan Barber, a vocal coach from the Jerome Robbins Foundation, who was the original Somewhere soloist for West Side Story Suite when it debuted with the New York City Ballet. As an actor and singer, Barber has performed on Broadway and sung on the original sound tracks of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Pocahontas and others.
She’s also taught voice lessons for 30 years. And beginning this winter, Barber has worked extensively with PBT’s newly minted vocalists on their range and annunciation as well as the intention behind each lyric they sing.
“What does the song mean and who are you singing to?” Barber prompts. “They’ve all got their own individual interpretation of how to do the songs, and I encourage that…Bernstein’s music is so rich. Sondheim’s lyrics are so rich…every dot, every accent mark…everything means something in this music.”
Here’s how 4 dancers summed up their vocal journeys:
“I sing a fair amount but we’re talking along to songs I like in the shower/car/kitchen! It’s totally new. That being said I was in the school chorus in sixth grade. And I would say it feels totally natural. It is scary but they have been so supportive throughout the entire process. The singing is just another extension of the character — another means of expression. It’s a fantastic thing to get to explore…using my voice on stage for the first time at this late date in my PBT career! The more we learn about how to use the instrument, the more dynamic and complex we realize it is. And singing and dancing at the same time doesn’t just add one additional element; when you add in stage direction, projection, annunciation, style, breath and all the other things it’s quite a bit more to manage!”
“Singing and dancing is something I’ve never experienced at this magnitude. I’ve only taken one singing class in my life and I don’t have fond memories. The coaching I’ve received as Anita has been inspiring and empowering. I was told to stay in my head voice on the very high notes instead of switching to my soprano, which is what I was doing in the beginning, and I feel like I’ve grown more than I was expecting to! I have a new-found confidence in my singing, especially on those higher notes. Being coached to take hold of what I have and strengthen it has been incredible. (Barber) really pushed me and believed in me when I didn’t.”
“We had to sing in front of the entire company two years ago to audition for the lady who wound up being the vocal coach for West Side Story Suite. That was a kind of nerve-wracking, but besides that day it’s been a great experience! By the time the show comes I will have sung in front of the company enough times that a couple more hundred people won’t make me more or less nervous. It’s harder to sing in front of people face to face with the lights on than in a packed house with the lights off. I felt that way when I had to sing for A Streetcar Named Desire and this is way more fun to sing.”
“I would consider myself to be a quiet person and throwing myself into the role of Rosalia is the farthest outside my comfort zone I have ever pushed myself. I grew up singing in choirs, but being vulnerable enough to perform solo work isn’t something I ever pictured myself doing. And yet, the more we rehearse, the more I find myself really enjoying it.”
Experience the PBT premieres of UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free on stage with the PBT Orchestra May 4-6, at the Benedum Center. Get your tickets here.
Swan Lake is arguably the most famous ballet of all time. Have you heard of Swan Lake, but don’t know the story line? Here it is in a nutshell…
Prince Siegfried is celebrating his 21st birthday. His Queen Mother presents him with a new crossbow…and a wake up call. It’s nearly time to choose a bride from one of six eligible princesses. It seems like the perfect time to escape to a hunting party with his BFF, Benno, and the rest of his friends.
Boy meets…swan. It’s after dark and, as Siegfried approaches a moonlit lake, he sights a majestic swan in flight. He takes aim…but the bird becomes a beautiful maiden, who implores him to lower his weapon. For Siegfried and Odette, it’s love at first sight. But this budding romance comes with some baggage.
Cursed from the start. Unfortunately, Odette has met an evil sorcerer first. The vindictive Von Rothbart has cursed Odette, trapping her in the body of a swan. Although she reassumes her human form by night, it will take a pledge of true love to break the spell once and for all.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Siegfried has made up his mind to swear his love for Odette, but he hasn’t envisioned the sabotage to come. Back home in the castle, guests — including the princesses — gather for his birthday ball. The Queen Mother pressures Siegfried to choose a bride, but he refuses. Who should waltz in but Von Rothbart and his daughter Odile (!), the spitting image of his beloved Odette…
The Ultimate Deception. Odile dazzles him with her vibrance (and her 32 fouettés) and deceives him into declaring his love to the wrong woman. As Prince Siegfried swears his fidelity, he sees a fleeting vision of Odette, realizing with horror that he’s mistaken his love for her evil twin.
Will good or evil prevail? No spoilers here. You’ll just have to see to find out.
Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra runs Feb. 16-25, at the Benedum Center. Find your seats here.
Valentine’s Day Gift Guide
Valentine’s Day is just a few weeks away, Pittsburgh! Here are four ideas to help you plan the perfect Pittsburgh date night and the ultimate gift from the heart. Give a gift that…
Plan the perfect date with tickets to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Feb. 16-25, production of Swan Lake, ballet’s greatest love story. Dress up, dine out and get lost in this classic story of good versus evil.
Or, make that three dates to anticipate! Create a three-ballet package featuring Swan Lake, PBT: New Works and UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In the Night + Fancy Free for as little as $81. Plus, your love will eat up these VIP perks.
Treat the dancer lover in your life to classes at PBT Studios! Sign them up for our Swan Lake workshop, where adult students will learn iconic choreography from the ballet. Or, consider a class pass for PBT Barre Fitness, Pilates and other Community Division dance fitness options.
If your special person loves doing good, consider making an honorary gift to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to support extraordinary art in our city. Plus, when you donate in a loved one’s name, they can experience behind-the-scenes benefits.
From May through July, PBT dancers take a well-deserved break from their full-time rehearsal schedule. For many dancers, summer layoff is a time to travel, to soak in the sun, to guest perform and teach, to rest and recuperate. But whatever their summer plans, we’re grateful that these PBT dancers found time to snap stunning dance shots in the open air. Enjoy the gallery and a glimpse into their summer breaks.
Joining 225 elite dancers from more than 24 countries and 20 states, two Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Graduate Program students will compete in the final round of the 11th-annual World Ballet Competition (WBC) June 19-24, in Orlando, Florida. Pittsburgh dance fans can tune in to a live online broadcast of the competition by visiting worldballetcompetition.com and clicking “Watch Live.”
Japan natives Saki Tsuruta, who turns 20 on June 18, and Masanao Ito, 20, will perform the virtuosic grand pas de deux from the classical ballet Le Corsaire. This challenging showpiece takes the form of a dance for three in the full-length ballet, but is often staged as a duet for competition settings.
Tsuruta and Ito are full-time students in PBT School’s Graduate Program, a pre-professional training program for dancers who have graduated from high school and are preparing for professional ballet careers. More than half of PBT’s full-time company members trained in PBT School’s Pre-professional Division, and its alumni also have gone on to dance professionally with other U.S. and international companies. PBT Principal Dancer Yoshiaki Nakano, an alumni of the Graduate Program, took home a silver medal from the WBC in 2010.
Judged by major international dance masters and artistic directors, the WBC draws aspiring young dancers, of ages 9 to 24, from around the world to compete for more than $150,000 in cash, scholarship awards, job contracts and dance merchandise. All dancers were pre-selected through a rigorous video audition process and will be competing in the categories of Soloist, Pas de Deux, Ensemble and Choreography. Prizes include the $10,000 Grand Prix award, which is open to all categories. Tsuruta and Ito will compete in the pre-professional Pas de Deux category.
The week-long event invites audience members for each day of the competition and is also broadcast live online worldwide (except for the gala performance). Each day’s livestream begins with a pre-show broadcast, which gives viewers interview and backstage access. The competition’s electronic scoring system also shares results with the audience in real time.
Since 2007, the WBC has drawn elite dancers representing more than 65 countries. Over the past ten events, competitors earned more than $1.5 million dollars in scholarship awards, cash prizes, job contracts, and dance merchandise, and 9 million video views have been generated online. Since its inauguration, the WBC has helped launch the professional careers of previous competitors now affiliated with prestigious ballet companies in five continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
The event’s concluding Gala Performance on June 24, will feature winning competitors and internationally recognized professional dancers, including New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht.
The WBC is presented by the Central Florida Ballet and funded in part by the Orange County Government through the Arts & Cultural Affairs Program, sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of Arts and Culture and the State of Florida, and supported by the United Arts of Central Florida.
On a recent weekday afternoon, a group of ballet dancers ducked into the shell of an abandoned Strip District building for an impromptu photo shoot. Like the greenery sprouting between the slabs of concrete, the dancers made this unlikely spot their studio for a few hours, striking pose after pose against the graffitied cement walls.
Behind the lens was someone with an eye for a good location: 20-year-old Emily Northrop, who’d noticed the wide-open space, the light streaming through the steel frame and the chance to juxtapose the gritty space with graceful dancers.
But she also brought something even more important to the table: an innate sense of timing. Northrop, along with her subjects, is a pre-professional dancer in PBT School’s Graduate Program.
It’s no small task to translate the dynamism of dance to a still photograph. In dance photography, much depends on the timing. It’s the key to catching a fully extended arabesque or a grand jeté at the pinnacle of its arc.
So it’s no surprise that many successful dance photographers, like Northrop’s role model Rachel Neville, are former dancers. It’s essential for capturing both the energy and the technique at their peak.
A Florida native, Northrop grew up in Seattle and started dancing around age 10. She trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet through high school, where she took her first photography class, and just finished her second year in PBT School’s Graduate Program.
“I think I really enjoy how you see your hard work pay off,” Northrop said of her love for ballet. “It’s a great way to express yourself and work through feelings. When I have stressful stuff going on in my life, when I dance it just completely erases all of the stress.”
Over the past year, Northrop began merging her two artistic passions. She saved up to buy a camera and started heading to photography classes at Pittsburgh Filmmakers after ballet each day.
She started her practice with portraits.
“I like to do portraits that have meaning behind them. They’re not just faces, they have an important message to say.”
Around the New Year, she began experimenting with dance – and that elusive ability to effectively freeze motion into one frame.
“Being a dancer helps immensely,” Northrop said. “When I’m taking the photos I can feel the timing in my body. Knowing the technique…you know how to turn the angles to make the dancers body look the best.”
Over time, and after taking a weekend workshop with Neville, whose photographs have been featured in Dance and Pointe magazines and by a variety of dance companies, Northrop began cultivating more detailed concepts for each shoot.
“I’ve been thinking more in the form of shapes rather than dance poses,” Northrop said. “For some of my dance photos, the ones that are a little bit more thought out…I thought of a word I wanted to express first and we did a bunch of different poses that expressed that word.”
For inspiration, Northrop scrolls through thousands of Pinterest photos, admiring other photographers’ work and filling her mind with ideas.
“I’ll look at thousands of images. When I go to bed it will be in my brain and when I wake up usually there will be some ideas there.”
She’s also taken inspiration from Neville’s ability to coax peak performance from her subjects and to conceptualize photos that put interesting dynamics at play.
“I noticed that (Neville) definitely pushes the dancers to their limits technique wise to get the best technical photo,” she said. “Now I am definitely more picky. I will give many, many corrections for one pose…to get the very best that they can make it look.”
Whether it’s dance, portraits or artistic side projects, Northrop showcases her work on Instagram under the handle @NorthropPhotography and on Facebook. One day she hopes to make it professional. For now, much like her 10-year pursuit of ballet, it’s all about the practice.
“I feel like the only way you get better is by practicing more and more. I really do love it.”
For more inspiring dance stories, plus exclusive ticket promos, sign up for the PBT e-news here.
Hit the Road with PBT: Chautauqua, NY
July is the perfect time to squeeze in that weekend getaway you’ve been meaning to take, and we have the perfect destination. On July 13, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will perform with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at the Chautauqua Institution in Southeastern New York. PBT will perform excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty, along with Rubies, the steamy second movement of Balanchine’s Jewels. Join us Saturday night in the Institution’s open-air amphitheater and spend the weekend exploring the area.
Visiting the Institution is the perfect opportunity to learn about a new topic or skill in a relaxing environment. The 750-acre lakeside community hosts classes, lectures, performances, and other programs for all ages every summer. There are several lectures and performances Friday, as well as several week-long classes, should you be inspired to expand your visit for a whole week. To get a taste of the community, buy a gate pass Saturday morning, shop the Crafts Alliance Craft Show in the afternoon, and enjoy dinner at the Heirloom Restaurant in the historic Athenaeum Hotel before heading to the performance.
At just about 2.5 hours from Pittsburgh, the area is home to Chautauqua Lake, state parks, wineries, and more lakeside towns than you will have time to explore. After purchasing your tickets for PBT’s performance and gate pass for the Institution, expand your itinerary to spend a long weekend in the area. We’ve already started planning the trip for you: Check out our Top 5 Things to Do on your Chautauqua getaway with PBT.
For the Shopper: Browse in Mayville, Lakewood and the Chautauqua Institution
Chautauqua Lake is circled by towns to explore and shop while you visit. Mayville, Lakewood, Bemus Point and the Chautauqua Institution itself are just a few of the places you will want to check out. A daily gate pass for the Institution is your ticket into its restaurants, shops, and beautiful grounds. Once you’ve explored the Bestor Plaza and grounds, there are countless shops to visit nearby where you can find locally-made ceramics, jewelry, and home decor as well as hand-crafted cheese and sweets to satisfy your palette. For one-of-a-kind gifts, check out Alpacaville to browse alpaca socks and sweaters or Chautauqua Miniatures and Dollhouse Gallery to browse dolls and accessories for the kid in you. Bonus: Visit the Art Loft just half a mile from the Chautauqua Institution. The lumber mill turned gallery/gift shop features work from over 100 artists.
For the Out-doorsy Type: Explore Panama Rocks Scenic Park
Check out Panama Rocks’ rock passages, caves, and crevices on the park’s mile-long hiking trail. The hike is accessible for all ages and will take you by 300-million year-old rock formations and hemlocks. One of the Sierra Club’s “Ancient Forests of the Northeast” and one of Chautauqua County’s most popular destinations, the park is the perfect shady destination for your trip. Bonus: Take NY-394 on your way there and stop at Reverie Creamery to buy artisan cheese for your park picnic!
For the Beach-goer: Kayak on Chautauqua Lake
The 17,000-acre lake offers the perfect opportunity to soak up some sun by kayaking and enjoying the water. Evergreen Outfitters offers lessons and rentals for those who may need to brush up on their skills. For the more adventurous, Chautauqua Marina rents power boats and water skis in addition to kayaks. And for the “landlubbers” there are a variety of public parks and beaches, such as Long Point State Park and Westlake Public Beach in Barcelona Harbor of nearby Lake Erie. And you can also check out water and other recreational opportunities on the Chautauqua Institution campus.
For the History Buff: Scope Out Dunkirk Lighthouse and the Town of Lily Dale
At a 40-minute drive from Chautauqua Institution, the Dunkirk Lighthouse guides boats into Lake Erie’s Dunkirk Harbor. The lighthouse is over a hundred years old, but you can still climb to the top of the observation deck for a stunning view of Lake Erie. Also be sure to check out the Veteran’s Museum and Light Keeper’s House to see its extensive collection of military artifacts. Bonus: For a unique sight-seeing experience, stop by the town of Lily Dale along NY-60 on your way. The town is home to Lily Dale Assembly, “the world’s largest center for the religion of Spiritualism.” You can explore the grounds’ fairy trail, museum, or schedule a reading with one of the town’s mediums.
For the Winelover: Luxuriate in a Sunday Morning Vineyard Walk and Warehouse Brunch
Led by Fred Johnson, owner of Johnson Estate Winery, this “walking classroom” will give you the chance to learn about wine making while touring the winery and vineyards. A light brunch with complimentary wine pairings will follow. This outdoor “class” is the perfect wrap-up to your weekend at Chautauqua before you head home. Tickets are $25. Visit johnsonwinery.com for more information.
Join PBT at the Chautauqua Institution to make a weekend of these activities, and to see Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, July 13. Purchase tickets here.
Photos courtesy of Chautauqua Institution
It wasn’t easy to whittle down material from nearly 50 performances to just top 10 ballet photos, but we were able to assemble a short list of shots that left a lasting imprint on our imaginations. Captured in the studio, on stage and behind the scenes, these images represent our favorite photographic memories of the 2016-2017 Season. Enjoy!
This was one of the first photos taken in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s brand-new Byham Center for a dance, a two-studio annex building at PBT Studios in the Strip District. Here, company members are settling into their bright new rehearsal studio.
We love this atmospheric shot from PBT’s redesigned Giselle, which opened the season in October. Here, the “Wilis” move in their signature arabesque formation, while their queen, Myrtha (danced by Julia Erickson), commands center stage. The thick forest and full moon of Peter Farmer’s new scenic designs add even more dimension.
As Yoshiaki Nakano sails over the flowers, he seems to symbolize the effervecense of PBT’s magical The Nutcracker, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this season.
This top 10 ballet photo was captured right after the September ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Byham Center for Dance. As they watch PBT dancers rehearse in the new Ryan Studio, PBT School students Grace Bond and Eden Lewis illustrate the special connection between the company and school, where aspiring dancers see their role models at work every day.
The Queen of Hearts, danced by Julia Erickson, is seeing red in this shot from PBT’s February production of Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland. This scene in particular, complete with playing-card tutus, leaps off the stage with its brilliant character acting and crisp Corps de Ballet dancing.
This shot made our top 10 ballet photos of 2016-2017 thanks to an intimate angle captured from the wings. Here, the ghostly Wilis of Giselle separate ill-fated lovers Giselle and Albrecht, danced by real-life husband and wife Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski. This production marked the final performance of Budzynski’s ballet career and the last time the husand-and-wife duo would share the stage.
We can’t get enough of our new studios, especially when Principal Julia Erickson is sailing through the air in this gorgeous emerald-green costume from George Balanchine’s iconic Jewels.
The extension and intentsity of this photo from Dwight Rhoden’s Ave Maria, part of the March mixed repertory collaboration with Dance Theatre of Harlem, made it an instant pick for our top 10 ballet photos of 2016-2017. Plus, hats off to PBT dancer Diana Yohe, who received a promotion to soloist in recognition of her brilliant performances this season.
There’s nothing quite like sitting in on a working studio rehearsal. You can see every expression the dancers make, hear each breath they draw and see the muscle behind the movement they make look so effortless. Here, Alexandra Kochis and Luca Sbrizzi rehearse for the title roles of Romeo and Juliet, and made it difficult to leave the studio with dry eyes.
Seen here onstage, Romeo and Juliet ended the 2016-2017 Season on an “emotional high.” The scenery was exquisite and the score is a masterpiece unto itself. But the dancing and acting, portrayed here by Yoshiaki Nakano and Amanda Cochrane, were enough to reduce us to tears.
Make more photographic memories next season! Don’t miss a banner season, featuring Dracula, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, PBT: New Works and UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In the Night! Learn more here.
Pittsburgh native Lexi Troianos is 15 years old and she already wears two very important hats: She’s a student in the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Pre-professional Division’s full-time High School Program and a full-time freshman in high school. She’s been dancing since age three, and now has her sights set on a professional career in ballet. This week, she’s approaching the ballet world’s equivalent of “finals” — back-to-back performance weekends in downtown Pittsburgh. First up, she’ll perform May 19-21, in Pre-Professional Showcases at Point Park University. The following weekend, May 26-27, she’ll take the Byham Theater stage for Spring Performance, which features 200+ students of PBT School’s Student and Pre-professional divisions. For a dancer, performance opportunities are what it’s all about. It’s a chance to showcase all they’ve learned, to test their technique, to nurture their stage presence, to give themselves over to the pure joy of performing and being in the moment, just dancing. But as effortless as it appears onstage, these performances are the product of a lot of hard work. Compliments of Lexi, here’s a window into a day in the life of a serious ballet student:
5:15 a.m. // Wakeup Call
The day starts at dawn for Lexi, who lives with her family in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh. It’s time to pack up her dance — and book — bags for a full day of studio and schoolwork. Lexi remains enrolled in the Seneca Valley School District, where she studies remotely and sometimes stops by the school for tests and other projects.
8-9:30 a.m. // Morning Ballet Class
Dancing starts bright and early with an 1.5 ballet class, a daily ritual for student and professional dancers alike. Lexi heads to her spot at the barre to stretch out and limber up before faculty member Christopher Budzynski, former PBT principal dancer, calls the class to order. Each class begins with barre combinations. Dancers warm up as they slowly loosen and lengthen their muscles, focusing on tendus, passes and plies. About 45 minutes in, dancers sideline the barres to make space for center combinations. In class, Lexi says she usually focused on specific aspects of her technique that feel off kilter that day. One day it could be turnout, and another the way she articulates her feet through each movement. “Overall, I think (class) makes you better as a dancer. It just warms you up for the rest of your day. I believe you can always get better.”
9:45-11 a.m. // Bluebird Rehearsal
Next up, Lexi changes into a teal rehearsal tutu to channel her inner fairy-tale princess. She and her partner, Kobe Courtney, are among three couples performing the sprightly “Bluebird Pas de Deux” from the classical ballet The Sleeping Beauty. Under Budzynski’s guidance, Lexi focuses on her technique and the joyful, yet regal presence required for the role. As she nears the final stretch of rehearsals for the spring performances, she says she’s focusing on “the fluidity of my arms and transitions…I think it was one of our better runs.”
11:30 a.m.-2:25 p.m. // Study Break
Now, Lexi heads to PBT’s upstairs cafe to switch gears. Laptops flip open, headphones pop in and Lexi and her fellow full-time high school students settle in for a few hours of schoolwork. Occasionally, students will bounce ideas off each other for a writing assignment or swap thoughts for other projects, but most home in on the task at hand. Today, Lexi is working on English and History assignments. Around noon, she’ll break for some lunch. On the menu for today is a chicken, parmesan and ranch wrap, a handful of almonds and some fruit. She’ll scatter in occasional snacks throughout the day to keep her energy up.
3-4:30 p.m. // Afternoon Ballet Class
After a few study hours, Lexi heads back down to the studio to warm up for her second ballet class of the day. The 1.5 class will prepare Lexi and her fellow student dancers for an afternoon runthrough of the program planned for this weekend’s Pre-Professional Showcases at the Benedum. Lexi is the zone at barre – hair tightly wound into a bun, wearing the customary black leotard and tights. As she prepares for center combinations, Lexi slides her feet into her pointe shoes, winds the ribbons around her ankles and sheds a layer of warm-ups. While Janet Popeleski explains the combinations, Lexi and her classmates seem to etch each movement into their muscle memory by sketching her instructions with an outstretched hand or foot. Class is essential to fine tuning technique and avoiding injury by gradually warming up the muscles until they’re supple enough for full-steam dancing.
4:30-6 p.m. // Pre-Professional Showcase Studio Runthrough
It’s time for a dry run of the works that these students have been rehearsing for months. While PBT School co-directors Marjorie Grundvig and Dennis Marshall watch on, Lexi runs through a handful of works, including the virtuosic Odalisque variation from Le Corsaire. These works pack serious classical technique, so Lexi and her fellow students must summon the stamina necessary to execute the challenging choreography with presence and personality. When they’re not dancing in a work, students sit cross legged at the back of the studio, cheering on their fellow dancers with bursts of applause for complex variations and technical feats. As she gets ready to dance each work, Lexi says, “I think about the music and the story behind it.”
6 p.m. // Drive Time
Dancing is done for the day, so Lexi head homes for some dinner and down time. But before bed, Lexi usually fits in some more schoolwork before catching up with her friends on Instagram and Facebook and winding down before bedtime.
10 p.m. // Bedtime
Now for some shuteye. Lexi will be back at it tomorrow morning, so it’s important to stay well-rested for the week ahead. During performance weeks, Lexi says, “You almost feel like you want to work even harder…you want to get perfect. Once you do get onstage, all of the nerves just go away, because you’re just dancing and it all flows out. There are no worries, nothing else in the world exists.”
Romeo and Juliet casting is up, and we can’t wait to see the chemistry between each leading couple. This production marks the North American premiere of Derek Deane’s epic adaptation, which dials up the drama with emotionally charged dancing and sumptuous Renaissance-era scenic designs. And let’s not forget another crucial casting element: The live PBT Orchestra will bring to life the famous Prokofiev score, which many believe rivals the great Tchaikovsky works. This masterpiece is onstage for one weekend only, April 21-23, at the Benedum Center. Get your tickets today!
Friday, April 21, at 8 p.m. // Sunday, April 23, at 4:30 p.m.
|Hannah Carter||Alejandro Diaz|
Saturday, April 22, at 2 p.m.
|Alexandra Kochis||Luca Sbrizzi|
Saturday, April 22, at 8 p.m. // Sunday, April 23, at 12 p.m.
|Amanda Cochrane||Yoshiaki Nakano|
*Casting is subject to change.
One Weekend Only: Romeo and Juliet takes the stage April 21-23, at the Benedum Center. Tickets start at just $28. Get your tickets here or call 412-456-6666. Groups of 8+ can save up to 50% by calling 412-454-9101 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
We could count many ways we love Romeo and Juliet, but allow us to wax poetic about just five facts, which make it the perfect season finale. This production dials up the drama with a sweeping staging that is completely new to Pittsburgh, to the United States, and to North America! Together with the PBT Orchestra, we’ll debut Derek Deane’s epic staging of Shakespeare’s story of star-crossed lovers from April 21-23, at the Benedum Center. His reading reverberates with powerful acting and emotion, creating vivid poetry without speaking one word. Here are just 5 facts about Romeo and Juliet that make it love at first sight:
1. It’s a feast for the eyes.
The curtain rises on a gorgeous scene straight out of Renaissance-era Italy. Derek Deane originally conceptualized this production for an in-the-round production at London’s cavernous Royal Albert Hall, so the scenery had to project. He says he was inspired by the “exquisite” setting of the 1968 Zeffirelli film to capture a cinematic quality in the ballet’s scenic designs. Scenic and costume designer, Roberta Guidi di Bagno, a native of Italy, brought his vision to life. Standout settings are the moonlit balcony scene and the eerie crypt with its somber procession of candle-bearing monks. Each performance features 63 characters, many of whom make multiple costume changes throughout the show.
2. Passions – and tensions – run high.
This emotional roller coaster twists and turns from infatuation to fury and many fascinating shades in between. As they’re pushed to the brink of their emotions, protagonists reveal different sides of themselves, which creates unexpected and even startling moments between characters. The drama isn’t all in the sword-fighting scenes: Watch for evolving tensions among the members of the Capulet family, for example, and the character arcs that come along with it.
3. But, the dancers keep it real.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has earned its place on the pedestal of great literature, theater and film. But with its themes of forbidden love and societal stresses, the story has stood the test of time because it’s relatable to real people. For his adaptation, Deane returned to the original text to analyze the characters and what makes them tick. Among his favorite interpretations are Lady Capulet, Tybalt and Juliet. His Juliet is a strong woman who knows what she wants, someone who has “so many layers to her.” Deane describes Tybalt, the “King of Cats,” as “uncontrollable…always looking for trouble.” And with her overwrought reaction to her nephew, Tybalt’s, death, Lady Capulet claims one of the ballet’s reigning dramatic moments. Unlike the fairy-tale themes of great 19th-century works like Swan Lake or La Sylphide, Romeo and Juliet is a 20th-century ballet with real-world themes. This sense of reality is paramount to Deane’s interpretation.
4. Prokofiev gives Tchaikovsky a run for his money. And the PBT Orchestra will be playing it live.
Many credit Prokofiev’s score for cementing Romeo and Juliet’s place among the major works in the ballet repertoire. The intense, richly varied music is particularly famous for its character portraits and an emotional range that contains notes of both tenderness and violence. Prokofiev composed the score in 1935, though it wasn’t performed as a ballet until 1938. Three suites and 10 piano pieces extracted from the score were the first to reach the public. Although it was intended for the Kirov ballet, “Romeo and Juliet” premiered instead in Brno, Czechoslovakia (now in the Czech Republic) in 1938. It didn’t debut in the Soviet Union until the Kirov staged it in 1940. NPR’s Ted Libbey, author of its “Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music,” says “Romeo and Juliet is one of the most beautiful scores of the 20th century, and certainly one of the greatest compositions for the ballet stage, on a par with the great Tchaikovsky ballets.”
5. Without using one word, the dancing speaks volumes.
When it came time to translate Shakespeare’s poetry to motion, Deane first channeled the emotions of each encounter. “I visualize how the person should feel,” he said. Each dance carries its own emotional tenor from the lifts and elation of the balcony scene to the heartrending final dance in the crypt. Another choreographic feat can be found in the frenzied sword-fighting scenes between the feuding families. Two of Deane’s favorite moments sum up the ballet’s emotional extremes. One is Lady Capulet’s visceral reaction to Tybalt’s death, which Deane likens to a “Maria Callas moment.” But on the other side of the spectrum, he says, “I love that moment in the balcony pas de deux where they both realize there’s no way back. It’s destiny.”
One Weekend Only: Romeo and Juliet takes the stage April 21-23, at the Benedum Center. Tickets start at just $28. Get your tickets here or call 412-456-6666. Groups of 8+ can save up to 50% by calling 412-454-9101 or emailing email@example.com.
Students at Hill Dance Academy Theatre; aspiring professional dancers
It’s a Tuesday night in March, and Zion Jackson, 13, and Bria Goldsmith, 17, have just finished master classes with Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers Lindsey Croop and Chyrstyn Fentroy. They’ll admit to a few pre-class jitters, but these two are no strangers to dance. Both are long-time students at Hill Dance Academy Theatre (HDAT), where they dance ballet, jazz, Horton, tap, African, modern and Afro-Caribbean and took tonight’s master classes. Their academy was founded by Ayisha Morgan-Lee, a professional dancer with a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Howard University and a Master’s in Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College’s School of Public Policy & Management. The organization’s teaching artists include professional dancers, scholars and alumni, and its philosophy focuses on the dancer’s mind, body and spirit in a well-rounded program that prepares students for careers and life. For Zion and Bria, this philosophy rings true. Dance is central to their lives now, and both intend to build their futures around it. But regardless of what their future careers hold, they know it’s already changed them for life. Here are their stories:
How and when did you get your start in dance? What drew you to it?
Zion: “My first time coming to HDAT, I was 8 and my cousin did it. We used to always put on performances in my living room and show my parents, and they signed me up for dance. I also tried karate, but I was too graceful for it. So I did dance…When I first saw Misty Copeland’s performance on TV, I thought, ‘Hey that looks cool, I want to try that.’ It was very graceful. Of course it looked easy at it first, but it’s not easy (laughs).”
Bria: “I actually started because I came to one of HDAT’s summer intensive performances…my cousin (was performing). I was nine at the time and I didn’t do any outside activities, so my mom was like, ‘Do you want to try it?’ So that’s how I started dancing. I was never really a performer, I was more on the shy side. So I was thinking, maybe it would allow me to open up more and not be so timid and to myself and conservative…Something about dance just kept bringing me back in. I just enjoy it.”
How do you feel when you’re dancing?
Zion: “When I first started dancing I liked to stay to myself, and if I did do stuff, I liked to be in the back. But then as I started dancing I wanted to go to the front. When I dance I feel like I can touch someone in the audience. I feel loved by everybody around me. I feel like you develop a community around yourself. You feel like some people actually want to see you and are paying just to see you, so it’s kind of like a comfort feeling.”
Bria: “When I dance, I just feel a different type of energy coming out of me. Some people that are watching are not fortunate enough to dance for whatever reason, and I just want to make sure that I use this gift to the best of my ability, because everyone does not have the opportunity to dance. When I dance I try to make sure that I’m telling a story and that I’m just not going through the movement, but adding a little personality into it.”
What is your advice for someone who is on the cusp of trying someone new or expressing themselves through something like dance?
Zion: “At first it’s not going to be easy, but don’t give up. Don’t just take a class and be like, ‘OK I like it or I don’t like it.’ Make sure you keep taking classes, because in different classes you learn different things and you develop different feelings about dance. A lot of people say dance is your passion, but as it develops over time you can find that passion in dance.”
Bria: “Dance is very demanding. It takes a lot of work. But if you’re really passionate about it then maybe the work won’t really get to your head, because it’s something that you love. Also you shouldn’t worry about well, ‘She’s more flexible than me or she has better turnout than me’ or whatever it may be. It’s just you getting yourself better each day. I would just say, go for it. It’s a challenge, but if you continue to do it and continue to train, then your results will show.”
As a dancer, what do you take away from your ballet training, specifically, to improve your broader technique?
Zion: “Whether you like ballet or not, it’s the basis of every dance. Everything drives from ballet just like Latin helps every other language form. In Horton, you always have to go navel to spine; even though the arms may be different, your main body frame and structure stays the same. Or in tap, you always have to stay on your toes or on the balls of your feet, so your relevé in ballet helps to make sure your calves are strong enough to do the exercises needed in different dances…Dance requires a lot of discipline, and ballet especially… Like posture in ballet: Some people will ask me, ‘Why are you sitting like that?’ And I didn’t even notice. Or I’ll be sitting and already pointing my feet, and I won’t notice that either. I feel like that influence in ballet, you carry it on through life.”
Bria: “Ballet is the foundation of all genres. Whatever genre you’re taking, ballet is going to show up in some way, shape or form. In ballet, you have to really understand the anatomy of your body. If you’re in any other genre, ballet is just there. That’s why I try each day in ballet to really get that down, so I can take it with me wherever I go.”
What was it like to take class with Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers?
Zion: “At first it was very intimidating. I see (Lindsey Croop) walk in, and I’m like, ‘Wow, she’s really graceful, she looks like she’s a really good dancer.’ And of course she is. I expected her to be really tough and hard on us, but she was very graceful and funny. She would also be really informative and tell us why we’re doing something, and make sure we’re breathing and just make sure that we’re doing what we’re supposed to (through) a friendly banter. You can see her personality. And when she danced and showed examples, you could see how her personality would show, which was a good influence on us.”
Bria: “It was kind of scary, because pointe isn’t really my strength at all and it’s just something that I have to continue to work on. But it turns out that she wasn’t as strict as I was expecting. She just really wanted us to know the different placements of our body. She wants to make sure that we’re dancing instead of doing the basics and just going through the movement. It was a nice class. She taught us some of her repertory, and it was really nice.”
Do you have a dancer role model?
Zion: “I think it would be Katherine Dunham or Pearl Primus. We had a choreographer come in and set some choreography on us that was choreographed by Pearl Primus, and I looked up how she used to dance. She was a very powerful woman and she was a very powerful dancer. She started in track…in something almost totally different from dance, so she inspires me.”
Bria: “Ingrid Silva. She is a dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem. I watched her documentary a few days ago, and it just showed that you can do whatever you want to in life, no matter the obstacle or circumstance. It just really pushes me to make sure that whatever dream I have, I continue to go for that and I succeed no matter how long it will take me.”
What was your biggest takeaway from today’s master class?
Zion: “Our teacher today helped us understand that there are breathing points in ballet, and ballet is basically all breathing in the movement. Not to just do the movement, but to live in the moment. So while you’re living in the moment, you’re telling a story, and when you tell a story you have to breathe. Ballet is living…you have to breathe.”
Bria: “I learned to be more loose instead of being timid. She also taught that while we’re doing a fun and funky dance, make sure that you still continue to do the technique… the ballet foundation. Also I learned, you are your biggest competitor. Even though she didn’t say that bluntly, that’s what I got from it. You can’t compare yourself to whatever someone else has, you just have to fight to make sure that you’re better than what you were yesterday. That’s just the motto that I’m trying to keep with me throughout my dance career and I hope that takes me far.”
What are your plans for the future and for your career?
Zion: “I personally want to dance with Philadanco, because I like their style and how it’s really fast movement. It’s to its full extent. They do Horton, and that’s my favorite style of dance. Horton, Graham, Dunham, I like those types of dance styles, and Philadanco does that and it’s really upbeat. Every piece has a story behind it, and it’s really fast and I like that. And then I want to open my own dance company like Miss Ayisha has.”
Bria: “I’m a rising senior, so in college I do plan on dancing, depending on whether it’s a major or minor. Then, after college, if dance sticks with me throughout the four years, the company I would like to join is Ronald K. Brown Evidence. I just feel like that’s the company that I can relate most to. I think it was two years ago, they came to Pittsburgh and did an open community audition to perform with their dancers and I was picked among three other dancers. Right then and there I knew that I could see myself in that company when I grew up. I’ve seen a lot of companies, so me saying that now…says a lot. Hopefully I keep that mentality throughout my college years.”
What has dance given you that you’ll always carry with you, both within and beyond the dance world?
Zion: “Discipline. In dance there’s a lot of discipline. You have to know when to ask questions, when not to ask questions. Your posture. How to greet and make connections with people. The dance world is so small that you have to make different connections with different people and that will go a long way. In the real world it’s kind of like that…making different connections can get you pretty far in the dance world or not.”
Bria: “You have to network and put yourself out there and not be afraid to connect with other people. You might meet up with them a year later and you might be looking for a job and they might be one of the people who interview you and they might remember you. Not to be afraid to take on any challenge that comes your way and to never throw away an opportunity, because you never know where that could take you.”
Performing. Is that a big part of the equation for you – the ability to share your gift with others?
Zion: “My first time performing with HDAT I was 8 or 9…and even though I was in the back I felt like the spotlight was on me. I liked that feeling of having people watching you and coming just to see you. I like the rush of performing. Even backstage, preparing to perform, you meet so many people and there’s so many memories. Not everything is going to be perfect. Things go fast, and you have to be able to react quickly to those things. I have a lot of memories to take back with me before, during and after the performance.”
Bria: “It just brings you a satisfaction to know that you touched someone out in the audience in some type of way. I feel like dancing is just a way of life. Even if you don’t pursue that for the rest of your years, I feel like there’s always going to be a part of you that will always have a connection to dance. That’s where I am right now. I’m just trying to enjoy my last year here. I’m also in the stage of trying to find myself and trying to see how I’m unique and stand out from the rest.”
Why is it important to take class with and be exposed to people with different professional backgrounds?
Zion: “It keeps letting you get inspired to do different things and it helps you touch on different genres of dance that maybe you weren’t thinking about doing in the future or you haven’t done. I know sometimes in dance it gets really hard and it’s gets hard for you to keep moving on and pushing forward. When you keep having master classes, it inspires you to keep going so you can see the excellence that you can become when you get older.”
Bria: “It’s good to take master classes, because you never want to stay stuck on one style of dance. You want to get all the opportunities that you can to try other things, because you never know, you may like it. Also, taking master classes with different people, you may see them again. They may remember you…You just never know what you can get out of a master class. I just feel like it’s great to take every opportunity that you get.”
Why do you think dance is universal?
Zion: “I think dance is universal because I feel like whatever you do there’s going to be something that you love encrypted into it. Some people use dance as a stress reliever, and some people might use art, like coloring, as a stress reliever, so I feel like we all have different hobbies and different things that we can share with each other. To me, wherever I go, especially in Pittsburgh if you go to one of the cultural events, dancing is always part of the show. Or, you’ll see someone just getting up and dancing to their favorite song, whether it’s nodding their head or actually dancing. So even if you’re not taking classes 24/7, I feel like you still have a part of dance and that rhythm in your body.”
Bria “Dance is just one big community. The dance world is known to be small. Whenever you go out to different functions that revolve around dance, you can meet up with someone that you may have been in a master class with a few months ago…you can just meet people from all over. Also, I just feel that dance is in every type of activity. I know some football players take ballet classes for their muscles…or track…or any other type of sport. I just feel like dance is in everything and there’s no escaping it.”
We’re celebrating diverse, inspiring dance stories all month long. Join the dialogue and follow the series at #FacesOfBalletPgh.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School student dancer; recipient of PBT’s Community Youth Scholarship
Adon Quinerly was six years old when he auditioned for the inaugural class of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Community Youth Scholarship program. In his own words, “I thought it would be fun; I thought PBT would be a cool place to experience.” Now, at age 10, nearly four years into the training program, dance still makes Adon feel “happy.” He says his favorite part is “learning new dance moves” and picking up new choreography. Since joining PBT School’s Children’s Division, Adon has performed in the company’s main-stage production of The Nutcracker at the Benedum Center in addition to PBT School spring performances at the Byham Theater. Here’s why Adon’s pursuit of dance makes his mom, Maximillion Elliott-Quinerly, happy too.
Why do you think ballet is a good opportunity for Adon? Why did you decide to help him pursue or discover it?
“Dance was such a large part of my life during my pregnancy with Adon and directly after. I took him with me wherever I’d dance. When he was a baby, at times I would wear him when I taught or during congregational dances. I would grab a piece of cloth and wrap it around him and wrap him onto me. As Adon grew, I began to incorporate him into the choreography whenever I could. Dance was very natural for him, as it was for me. Unfortunately for me, as a young person I did not have an opportunity to receive technical training. When I heard about PBT’s scholarship program, I wasn’t sure that Adon would want to pursue ballet in the way that he does. However, I knew I had to at least put him in a position to have that option. I wanted Adon to be able to explore his full potential in dance and not be limited by a limited dance vocabulary. When he was awarded a scholarship with PBT, we were both very excited.
Ballet is a beautiful language of discipline and grace, a foundational language from which one can build a dance vocabulary. I believe technical training offers the natural dancer an opportunity to expand their abilities and perfect their natural gift. Adon is developing beautifully under the guidance of PBT, and I am looking forward to watching his continued growth as a dancer and as a man.”
Why do you think these classes are an important part of his weekly routine and his life?
“The weekly routine is helping Adon to learn time management and prioritization of tasks. The discipline he is learning in ballet is transferrable to other areas of his life.”
What do you think ballet brings out in Adon?
“Confidence. Ballet is building Adon’s confidence and self-esteem; this is translating ballet into every area of his life. Additionally, when he is at PBT and/or participating in PBT activities and performances there is a sense of community. He is a part of something that he loves and a part of a group of people who he is developing long-term relationships with.”
Why do you believe dance in general, and ballet in particular, is universal?
“I’ve spent almost a decade using dance as a platform to communicate with and bring together multi-cultural, multi-generational people from extremely diverse backgrounds. The language of dance transcends geographical, socio-economic, political and other boundaries; it draws people together to create beauty in community. Ballet in particular is a technical language that appears consistent cross-culturally. The issue is the foundational language is not known to all. This language, ballet, should be as accessible as one’s first language. However, even in the absence of audible cues, there is a kinesthetic teaching that takes place in dance. This way of teaching is invaluable particularly when one travels to teach.”
We’re celebrating diverse, inspiring dance stories all month long. Join the dialogue and follow the series at #FacesOfBalletPgh.