New Dancer Spotlight: Colin McCaslin
Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr recruited Colin McCaslin, of Vineland, New Jersey, from PBT School’s full-time high school program, where he trained for two years. Before joining PBT School, McCaslin trained with the Atlantic City Ballet School under Phyllis Papa and in Miami City Ballet School’s summer intensive. He has performed with PBT in The Nutcracker and West Side Story Suite and with Atlantic City Ballet in Carmen and Swan Lake. His repertoire also includes excerpts from Giselle, La Sylphide, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Paquita and Western Symphony. Get to know Colin here.
Hometown: Vineland, NJ
Family: “I come from a family of 13, two of whom were adopted from China. My parents are pretty much the most selfless people you’d ever meet; they’ve always done their best to make sure I could do what I loved.”
Pre-performance ritual: “I usually just listen to music and prepare myself mentally.”
Hobbies: “I don’t really have too many hobbies, but hanging out with the people I love and a good cup of coffee are two of my favorite things.”
Favorite food: “Salmon (if done well), but I also love pizza, sausage and sushi.”
Favorite musician: Paul McCartney
Ultimate dream role: Basilio in Don Quixote
Favorite role to date: “I had a lot of fun performing the first movement of Western Symphony, but I also loved performing Paquita (in PBT School’s Pre-professional Showcases 2018).”
How do you think you’ve grown during your time in the PBT School Pre-professional Division? How has it prepared you for a professional ballet career?
“I feel that I’ve established a strong foundation as well as been given many challenging opportunities from which I can continue to learn and grow. I think in a lot of ways the many rehearsals throughout the day are not unlike that of a company schedule. The dynamic of the Pre-professional Division really does a great job of preparing dancers for a professional career. I feel I’ve become a lot stronger and more confident having been given so many incredible opportunities.”
Describe your Ballet “epiphany” – the moment you knew this is what you wanted to do professionally.
“I never really had one moment, but every time I go on stage I’m reminded of why and how much I love this art form.”
What are some of your personal goals for your first season as a company dancer?
“Just to keep on working; everything can always be better.”
What’s the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer?
“I think the most fulfilling thing about being a ballet dancer is bowing after a good performance, knowing that you gave it your all.”
What are you most looking forward to dancing next season?
“I’m definitely looking forward to The Great Gatsby.”
If I weren’t a ballet dancer…”I think I’d be an attorney.”
Your Guide to PBT School’s Spring Performances
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
New Dancer Spotlight: Christian García Campos
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.”
10 Summer Intensive Takeaways
The launch of PBT School’s annual Intensive Summer Program quickly brings PBT to life during the company’s quiet summer break. Students ages 12-22 flow out into the hallways and lounges during their breaks; stretching, talking, and relaxing in their downtime. They practice six days a week, spending over 180 hours in the studio. But, in talking to 10 of these 225 students you wouldn’t realize the intensity of their schedule unless you asked. Their passion out shined any fatigue they may have felt as they described some of their biggest challenges and lessons from the past five weeks.
Hometown: Charleston, SC
“Just the incredible amount of progress you can see in yourself and in other people in only five weeks is really neat. I would say probably one of the biggest challenges is being self critical and learning to work in a positive way… not being afraid of failing and focusing on the possibilities of what you can do, and really allowing yourself to learn what you can from teachers, because you can’t really learn anything if you’re afraid of failing.”
Hometown: Takoma Park, MD
“The teachers care for the students’ futures, not just right in the present working on their technique. When I get corrections from certain teachers or see others corrections given, it’s more ‘when you’re twenty you’re going to have to be able to do this in a company.’ It’s more future-oriented.”
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Level: Men 2B
“Coming to ISP made me realize that I’m capable of a lot more than I thought. I used to think, ‘Oh that role isn’t for me’ or, ‘That variation isn’t something that I feel comfortable doing.’ But, with working with, say Christopher (Budzynski) or Li Chou (Cheng), you get crossover with the company, and I figured out that I actually can achieve those variations, those roles, and bring them energy.”
Hometown: Akron, OH
“(The teachers) are all amazingly qualified and they care; you can really see. They give us corrections and they want us to improve. All of the teachers are very particular about their details, especially in the port de bras which is really nice, because I like Balanchine a lot so sometimes I lose the classical flowiness of my arms. They really pay attention to that, it’s something I can work on to have my positions where they need to be.”
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
“The most surprising thing for me is how the American dancers helped me every day and how they talked to me. They were really friendly.”
Hometown: Virginia Beach, VA
“The most changing thing for me was coming into class every day and being around a group of kids where everyone is very serious and dedicated…I would say the biggest challenge is adapting to each teacher and remembering specific things they liked compared to other teachers.”
Hometown: Austin, TX
Level: Men 2B
“Taking care of myself is probably a big one – my body and how I’m feeding myself especially. It’s been interesting figuring out how to get through an 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. day.”
Hometown: Denver, CO
“Just the experience. I think all the excursions are so fun. And the classes. I’ve never taken jazz or contemporary before; I just do strictly ballet, but they’re so fun and I think I want to do more of it now. Introduction to that has been pretty awesome.”
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Level: Men 1
“Holding your position. I make sure when the teacher gives me a correction that I try to do that as much as I can and remember to hold my arm in a special way…I had my first official pas de deux class here and it was fun, though kind of hard.”
Hometown: Puebla, Mexico
Level: Men 2
“I’ve been here since the (school) year for the grad program. But for the summer I think I’m getting in better shape, having all-day technique classes – every day.”
Day in the Life of a Ballet Student
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.”
See Lexi and her fellow pre-professional dancers perform this month in Pre-Professional Showcases, May 19-21, and Spring Performance 2017, May 26-27.
PBT School’s Elenora Morris to Compete in Switzerland’s Prix de Lausanne
At age 17, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School student Elenora Morris can count herself among only six females in the United States – and 84 dancers from around the world – who will compete in Switzerland’s 41st Annual Prix de Lausanne international ballet competition from Jan. 27, to Feb. 3, this year.
Founded in 1973 to discover, promote and support the world’s finest young talents, the Prix de Lausanne is an international competition and educational workshop for young pre-professional dancers, ages 15 to 18, of all nationalities. From a total of 250 dancers who auditioned by video, Morris is among only 84 candidates and 43 females, representing 20 countries, selected to participate in the competition in Lausanne.
“I feel really honored, because it’s such a prestigious competition. It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Elenora, a PBT School Pre-Professional student who has trained exclusively with PBT School since beginning her dance education at age 8.
In addition to her full-time training with PBT School, Elenora has spent the last two months working with PBT faculty to hone two performance pieces for the competition: Don Quixote’s classical Queen of the Dryads and the contemporary Saraband from Vasos Comunicantes.
“Elenora has grown up training with PBT School, and it is very exciting to see her hard work and dedication gain her a place among a very select group of young dancers from around the world,” said PBT School Director Marjorie Grundvig. “We are extremely proud to have her represent Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School to the international ballet community.”
Morris will be the third female PBT School student to compete in the exclusive competition in the last two years, following PBT School Pre-Professional students Aviana Adams and former student Anwen David, who competed in the 2012 Prix de Lausanne.
“I have strong relationships with the teachers. I feel very supported,” Morris said of her training with PBT School. “All the performance opportunities we get here, it gets you comfortable onstage. We get a wide range (of repertoire)…I feel very well-rounded and comfortable performing lots of styles.”
Throughout the five-day selection process in Lausanne, Morris will participate in classical and contemporary ballet classes with leading dance professionals, and receive coaching from Goyo Montero, the choreographer of her contemporary performance piece. Finally, the candidates will perform their classical and contemporary variations for the Prix’s nine-member judging panel. At the close of the selection period, a select number of candidates will receive invitations to compete in the finals on Feb. 3.
“(The Jury’s feedback) will be really helpful to hear what I need to work on and what strengths I have,” Morris said. “I think what I learn will be very useful for my ballet career…more knowledge of myself as a dancer and knowledge of the ballet world. I think it will be amazing to be around so many accomplished dancers and amazing teachers. I think I’ll learn more about technique, artistry, and what the entire ballet world looks like.”
Accompanying Elenora on the trip are her mother, Karen, and PBT School faculty member Pollyana Ribeiro. In addition to trying some Swiss chocolate and yogurt, Elenora and her mother plan to bring along the six-volume BBC Pride and Prejudice series to unwind in the evenings after a full day of dance.
“I’ve been practicing for months. I know it’s in my body…I just have to trust myself and have fun with it.”
About the Prix de Lausanne
Through scholarships, exposure to the world’s leading dance personalities, schools and companies, the Prix de Lausanne was created to discover the best young talents in the world and open the doors of the most prestigious dance schools and companies to help them realize their potential and become high-level professional dancers. The Prix has launched the careers of some of ballet’s leading performers, such as Carlos Acosta, Julie Kent, Darcey Bussell and Christopher Wheeldon. For more information, please visit www.prixdelausanne.org.
About Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School is the official training institution of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and has an enrollment of more than 900 students, including the Children’s, Student, Pre-Professional and Open Divisions. The Children’s Division gives young students an introduction to ballet and prepares them for advancement to the Student Division. Dancers in the Student Division work to refine their technique and dancers in the Pre- Professional Program prepare for professional ballet careers. Many students perform in an annual School Spring Performance at the Byham Theater, and some students are chosen by Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr to perform with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at the Benedum Center.