See the next generation of professional dancers, including newly hired company members Christian García Campos and Tommie Kesten, on stage this month in PBT School’s Pre-professional Showcases and Spring Performance 2018.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Pre-professional Division is a training ground for the next generation of aspiring dancers. According to Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr, “The Pre-professional Division is where dancers begin making the transition from student to professional. At this stage, dancers are honing their performance skills, cultivating their individuality as artists and testing their technique in company repertoire.” PBT’s company roster is a testament to this — Orr has recruited more than half of its dancers from the Pre-professional Division. Here, get an exclusive look at our stars while they were still students:
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
Artistic Terrence S. Orr recruited Christian García Campos, of Puebla, Mexico, to the company from the PBT School Graduate Program, where she has trained since 2014 — first as a full-time high school student and then as a Graduate student. 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 Christian here.
Tell us about your…
Hometown: Puebla, Pue., México
Family: “With two surgeons as parents, both my sister and I decided dance was our path. She has a dance studio back home.”
Pre-performance ritual: “I try to relax myself with music, but I definitely cross myself before entering the stage.”
Hobbies: Playing the piano, drawing and writing
Favorite food: Tacos and sushi
Favorite song: “No no no” by Beirut
Ultimate dream role: Juliet (Romeo and Juliet) or Nikiya (La Bayadère)
Favorite role to date: A bride in PBT’s production of Dracula
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist during your time in the PBT School Graduate Program?
“I believe that I have matured my dancing, trying to pay more attention to the small but meaningful details, which make the difference. I also think I’ve worked on trying to throw myself out there without worrying about the outcome. That usually does the trick, which hopefully will help throughout next year.”
Describe your ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this was what you wanted to do professionally.
“I don’t think there was an exact moment, but I remember that when I was younger in my home studio, I would love going to rehearsals. My fun on Fridays and Saturdays wouldn’t be about parties, it would be about going to do what I loved the most. Some people wouldn’t understand it, but that’s how I knew I wanted to keep doing this for however long I could.”
What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?
“I want to grow as a teammate. I believe the experience that you get as a student might be different from the one you get as a professional dancer with your coworkers. I also want to expand myself and be brave in doing things I’m not used to doing, to not stay in a comfort zone, not to focus too much on certain things so I don’t forget to loosen up a bit.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?
“There’s just so much to it. It’s like entering a whole new world that not everybody gets to experience. To be backstage, to witness how magic gets done before a show, and of course being on stage. It’s like escaping reality for a little bit. The lights, the costumes and makeup, how the music completely wraps up my entire focus. I live for those tiny moments that happen in which I indulge completely in the moment, and I couldn’t be more satisfied than that.”
What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?
“Definitely Mozart in Motion; it’s not every day that you get to dance something a little less classical and what better than (these works by George Balanchine and Jiří Kylián). Also I’m very curious about The Great Gatsby. ”
If I weren’t a ballet dancer, I would be…
“A marine biologist. The ocean mesmerizes me and I love animals way too much (haha). It’s always been sort of a dream to work with dolphins.”
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.
This spring, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrates the 100th birthdays of iconic choreographer Jerome Robbins and composer Leonard Bernstein with a triple bill of PBT premieres: UPMC Presents West Side Story Suite + In The Night + Fancy Free, on stage May 4-6, at the Benedum Center.
Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) is a cultural giant in both ballet and Broadway dance. His Broadway hits 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.
Throughout his career, which included a long-term position as New York City Ballet’s associate artistic director, He choreographed more than 60 ballets, including Fancy Free and In The Night, which PBT also will perform in May.
“No choreographer has so epitomized the American scene, or been so prolific in his expenditure of his creative energy. He contributed a great body of superb work to our dance culture, represented all over the world, and in the continuous performances of musicals during the last 35 years.” New York City Ballet
Beginning in the late 1940s, Robbins teamed up with the brilliant composer Bernstein to create West Side Story, a modern take on Romeo and Juliet, which sets the love story on the streets of 1950s New York in the crosshairs of two feuding gangs: The Jets and the Sharks.
Capturing the essence of the full-length musical, West Side Story Suite premiered in 1995 and samples iconic songs and Tony-winning choreography from the duo’s Broadway musical (1957) — and Academy Award-winning film (1961) — with choreography by Robbins, music by Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and scenery by Oliver Smith.
In the words of Principal dancer Julia Erickson, “West Side Story is such a crowd pleaser. It’s based off of Romeo and Juliet, so it’s a universally compelling story and I think that the suite picks out the greatest parts of it and puts it together in something that can be presented in an evening of ballet.”
Get a sneak peek:
When Diana Yohe next steps on stage, it will be as a Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist. Yohe, an alumna of the PBT School Graduate program, joined the company in 2013 as a member of the Corps de Ballet. Over her four seasons with PBT, she has danced an increasing number of featured roles, including Myrtha in PBT’s October production of Giselle and Alice in its February production of Alice in Wonderland. She’s also racked up an impressive number of contemporary credits ranging from Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort and Sinfonietta to William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room and James Kudelka’s The Man in Black. Diana trained under Courtney Laves and Mark Otloski at the City Ballet of Cleveland before pursuing pre-professional training in Joffrey Ballet’s Trainee Program and in PBT School’s Graduate Program, which she joined in 2012. Get to know Diana here.
Family: I have the most incredible support system. They come to every show, sometimes multiple times. They are the most wonderful people.
Pre-performance Ritual: I don’t have a specific routine, but I always say a quick prayer before getting on stage!
Most-played Music Right Now: The most recent CD I bought was Frank Sinatra. I love the old classics.
Hobbies: I am most definitely a book worm. I also love cooking and baking, along with traveling with my fiancé, Joe. He jokes that wedding planning is my new hobby!
Dream Role: My dream classical role would be Giselle. Otherwise I’d have to say that performing the pas de deux from After the Rain will always be a dream of mine!
Favorite Role to Date: Myrtha from Giselle. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring her character and she was a difficult role to perform since I am generally smiling.
Go-to Relaxation Activity: Reading would be my number 1. Retail therapy is always a way to help a girl relax too!
Misc. Fun Fact: I’m a leftie.
How does it feel to be a soloist? How did you react and/or celebrate when you got the news?
“I don’t know yet! I know I’ll keep dancing just as hard and enjoying every day I get to do what I love. The day I found out I was promoted, I had arrived at work a little early. Once I knew, the first two people I ran in to were my best friend and my fiancé. I’ll never forget the big hugs I got from both of them!! I later celebrated with friends, getting my favorite pizza in Pittsburgh, at Pizza Taglio.”
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist since you first joined the company?
“I feel that a lot of growing as an artist comes with growing as a person. Every part I’ve performed I feel has taught me something new and helped me learn a little bit more about myself.”
Could you describe the rush of performing, your connection with the audience and what it’s like being in the moment, performing, after so much preparation?
“Nothing compares to being on stage. My main goal once I get to the stage is to enjoy the moment and to share the joy I feel with the audience. When I’m out there I just try to relax in what I’m dancing and trust the preparation that got me there.”
Describe your most memorable role with PBT to date.
“In the Upper Room by Twyla Tharp was the first ballet I performed as a dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I can still remember how I felt during that show. It was incredibly special to me as it was my first time performing as a professional and it is a very difficult ballet to dance. Every time I hear the music by Phillip Glass it takes me back to that time in my life.”
What qualities do you strive to bring to your dancing?
“Understanding a character has become more and more important to me. Dancing becomes even more enjoyable when you have a story behind the movement.”
Why ballet? What does it mean it you?
“I love that ballet is a balance of artistry and athleticism. It is truly a challenge that never dwindles! From the very first time I performed in The Nutcracker, I knew it was my dream to be a professional ballet dancer. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! I wouldn’t change a single choice I made though. I have loved every moment of the ride ballet has taken me on.”
What are you most excited about for next season?
“We have awesome programs scheduled for next season, but if I had to choose I’d say I’m looking forward to Dracula. I have never performed it, but the dancers that have are all very excited to perform it again!”
Hit the Road with PBT: Chautauqua, New York
August is the perfect time to squeeze in that weekend getaway you’ve been meaning to take, and we have the perfect destination. On Aug. 12, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will perform with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at the Chautauqua Institution in Southeastern New York. PBT will perform excerpts from two great classics: the beloved story ballet Coppélia and the virtuosic pirate saga Le Corsaire, along with one of the great modern masterworks of the 20th century: Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort. 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’s debut with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12. Purchase tickets here.
Photos courtesy of Chautauqua Institution
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.
Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr has promoted company dancer Diana Yohe, of Willoughby, Ohio, to the rank of soloist for the 2017-2018 ballet season, which opens Oct. 27-29, with “Dracula” at the Benedum Center.
Yohe, an alumna of the PBT School Graduate program, joined the company in 2013 as a member of the Corps de Ballet. Over her four seasons with PBT, she has danced an increasing number of featured roles, including Myrtha in PBT’s October production of “Giselle” and Alice in its February production of “Alice in Wonderland.”
Her repertoire also includes featured roles in George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony;” Jiří Kylián’s “Petite Mort” and “Sinfonietta;” William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room;” Michael Smuin’s “Eternal Idol;” James Kudelka’s “The Man in Black;” Dwight Rhoden’s “Ave Maria;” and Marie and the Sugar Plum Fairy in PBT’s “The Nutcracker.”
“Diana already has earned a number of leading roles in PBT productions, which makes this promotion incredibly well-deserved,” Orr said. “She brings a special quality to the stage, not only with exceptional technique, but also with a charisma that draws your eye whether she’s dancing a solo or corps role. I look forward to seeing all that she’s capable of achieving as a soloist.”
Yohe trained under Courtney Laves and Mark Otloski at the City Ballet of Cleveland before pursuing pre-professional training in Joffrey Ballet’s Trainee Program and in PBT School’s Graduate Program, which she joined in 2012.
See Diana perform in PBT’s 2016-2017 Season finale, “Romeo and Juliet” with the PBT Orchestra, onstage for five performances April 21-23, at the Benedum Center. Tickets start at $28 and are available online, by calling 412-456-6666 or visiting the Box Office at Theater Square. Groups of eight or more can save up to 50 percent by calling 412-454-9101 or emailing email@example.com.
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.
#FacesOfBalletPgh: Dr. Melonie Nance
ENT otolaryngologist, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Trustee, PBT + Dance Theatre of Harlem committee co-chair
Dr. Melonie Nance is a surgeon, a wife and a mother. But for much of her life, she was a dancer. It shaped her identity then, and it remains part of it today.
Dr. Nance threw body and soul into ballet beginning at age 8. In high school she made the difficult decision to prioritize academics, and a future career in medicine, over a rigorous pre-professional training schedule. In college, she rekindled her passion for dancing and performing, but faced an inner conflict with the dance form she’d grown up loving.
Now, years later, her 3.5-year-old daughter, Lalitha, is the one dancing. And, as a member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Board of Trustees and co-chair of the committee supporting PBT’s collaboration with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dr. Nance is back to playing an integral role in the art form she’s loved for so long.
Here, she shares what drew her to ballet, what pushed her away, and ultimately what brought her back.
How did you first get into ballet?
“My mom took me to ballet when I was little. But she tells me that even when I was 3 years old I was the one that asked her if I could go to dance class. I took ballet when I was a little girl – ballet, tap and jazz – and then stopped when school got started and a I took piano and other things. When I was 8 years old I wanted to go back to ballet, and my mom wanted me to go to a place that was teaching serious ballet. She took me to the library before I started, and we checked out a book on the positions in ballet. We reviewed, and then she started me in classical ballet training at age 8.
I stopped in high school because it was getting to be the point where everybody was becoming pre-professional and you had to go five and six times a week and I had to stop and do my homework. It was a big decision. I sat down with my ballet teacher, Miss Ludmilla Dokodovsky, and we talked about it, and I told her that I wanted to go into medicine. When I went into college I started dancing again. I danced the entire time I was in college in almost every dance concert they had. It was a small school, and you didn’t have to be a dance major to be in every performance. It was modern dance and some ballet. A lot of students got to choreograph their own stuff, which was exciting. Three of my best friends in college were dance majors, so I was basically a dance major without the paperwork.”
What about ballet had you hooked?
“I love classical music. I think for me as a person, what I generally gravitate toward is something that is regimented and very difficult. I think that’s probably why I went into medicine too. I just liked the structure of it. I think it’s very analytical, the way you have to learn the combinations and stay on top of the music. I like the physicality of it. I love that it keeps you in shape. Even though you’re doing an art form it’s really totally physical training. Even now as I’ve tried to stay in shape and I go to the gym or yoga or pilates, it’s not the same.”
How do you feel ballet has shaped you as a person?
“For me, I’ve always been a person that can be really good at things without working too hard — but only certain things. So if something wasn’t easy for me, I would just do something else. But, ballet wasn’t easy for me at the beginning. My teacher, Miss Ludmilla, was just there, with me, on me, and she pushed me. Without that one-on-one interaction from her, I probably would have let it go earlier than I did. I remember specific days when she would come up to me in class and say, ‘Look at these muscles coming out. This is because you’re taking class so many times a week…’ or ‘Your body shape is good for doing really high jumps.’ She would do that with everyone. She would say, ‘you have the gift of having extension,’ or ‘look how you can turn.’ Everybody felt like they had these special gifts.”
Did you face any challenges in your pursuit of ballet?
“I don’t know if I felt actual racism in our dance school. There were a few other girls of color and boys of color in our dance company, and I felt that they got the roles that were commensurate with their level of talent. I didn’t feel that I couldn’t (achieve a role because of my color). I did know that I was one of the only ones, but that wasn’t really different from all of my other school activities.
But I have to talk about this other issue that I’ve had with ballet. When I was in college I came in as someone who had taken all of this classical ballet. Most of the classes were modern dance, so I had to kind of let that go, let it go out of my body. My best friend in college was a choreographer, and she was not a ballet dancer. She explained to me how ballet is Eurocentric, and that ballet pushed these European standards of beauty onto all dancers.These concepts expanded my mind, allowing me to see that there are so many types of dance besides ballet. During that time of my life, it was sort of uncool for me to love ballet because of the cultural references. It made me feel like I couldn’t love ballet as much because I was supposed to be searching for my own culture. I mean, I’m glad that it happened to me because it really opened my mind. You don’t have to have ballet training to be a good dancer, which I think is one of the main points she was trying to assert.
When I came to Pittsburgh and was in my residency, I took ballet for exercise, because I knew that was the best way for me to work out my body. It still is. Not until the last five years, when I started to really be involved in PBT and (a friend) got me back into ballet, did I realize that it’s OK for me to love ballet. And then with Misty (Copeland’s promotion to principal at American Ballet Theatre), it also helped me be like, ‘Hey I can love ballet and be a black woman.’ While in the past, I felt like I shouldn’t express my love for ballet because it was so European. But I don’t care anymore, I love ballet!
Now I think if we’re open to cultural diversity then…I think everyone can participate in it now and enjoy it in so many different ways. I’m glad that people are pushing to broaden and participate in their own way. I think the whole concept of Misty Copeland has allowed black girls, and women, to love ballet and proudly participate in it as a welcome part of the art form. There are so many different types of ballet choreographers now from all different cultures. I think we’re going to see a big widening and broadening of the field and what is ballet.”
Did it help you discover an inner joy or sense of expression?
“Yeah, I think so. In high school you get to be involved in this whole other world. I played music, I played the flute and I was in band. I didn’t feel as much of an ability of self-expression as I do with dance and with ballet. Even after I stopped taking a lot of the high-intensity class schedules for ballet, I always was known as a dancer at school. I choreographed the school musical and other things. I felt like people knew me as a special talent. I won the talent show in sixth grade, so after that everyone knew that I was a ballet dancer.”
Now your daughter, Lalitha, is taking ballet classes. What do you see it bringing to your daughter’s life?
“I was so excited to take her (to her first Mommy and Me ballet class at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre). I was like, ‘OK, you gotta get this under control because this is not about you anymore…I don’t want to push this on you.’ But she really loved it. I should share part of something I wrote to her on that day…
On your first dance class, I may have been overjoyed about the fact that this happened today. I am not going to push you. But I do feel a special fulfillment in sharing something I love so much with you… I hope someday that you love something as much as I have loved and still love to dance — ballet and many other forms. God help me to open doors to many opportunities for you to choose your passion — whatever they may turn out to be…
Right now both of my little girls love ballet, and they’re around it a lot because of my involvement. If they really want to do it they certainly can. What I’m excited about is that they see so many girls of color in their dance classes and onstage…Lalitha just thinks it’s a regular thing. If they want to, the door is so wide open, but I certainly don’t want to push them. Right now it’s just about exposure.”
Why is this collaboration important to you personally and why do you think it’s important for our community?
“I just think it’s a doorway to get a whole bunch of people connected…It allows people to fall in love with ballet who may have thought ballet isn’t for me or it’s not for us. If they’re excited about Dance Theatre of Harlem and they come and see, I think people will get excited for the kids who may have opportunities to do ballet in a way that maybe they didn’t feel was a door that was open to them. I just feel like most people in Pittsburgh, when you talk about Dance Theatre of Harlem, get really excited. They’re excited about the history of DTH and how hard they’ve had to work to be there. Some of that same history is at PBT too in a different way. I think that it’s a real stepping stone to really widen the audience and widen the opportunities for kids in Pittsburgh to come and take ballet. It’s not going to be everyone’s career, for sure, but it can be a really important part of your upbringing.”
One thing that’s kind of funny is that my husband has never seen my dance. All the people who know me now, they know me as doctor, as a physician, as a mom. People that knew me in college and in high school and younger, they knew me as a dancer. They can’t believe I’m a doctor now. It’s so funny, because it’s so much of my identity in the past. I’m so glad now it’s becoming part of my identity in a new way.”