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.
Sick of short days, gray skies and cabin fever? Ditch reality, embrace the madness and find out why people are raving about their wild trip to PBT’s Alice in Wonderland. This imaginative production is onstage through Feb. 19, at the Benedum Center. Get your tickets before it’s too late!
1. The stagecraft is simply astonishing. Floating clocks, confusing corridors of doors, teapots that pour on command, Queens who appear out of thin air – we’re all mad here.
2. Kids can’t get enough. From a dancing dormouse to mind-blowing magic tricks, there’s never a dull moment. According to one Tweeter, her six-year-old son was “ENTHRALLED.” Her advice? “Go now!”
3. The Queen of Hearts’ performance is “DELICIOUSLY WICKED (Pittsburgh City Paper).” You’ll literally see red when the Queen loses her head over a game of croquet.
4. And, according to Facebook, everybody loves those tutus made of playing cards.
5. Really, it just “hit all the high points — from a surreal transition to Wonderland, replete with torso-less tutus and floating teapots, to the Rose Garden, dominated in no uncertain terms by a glamorous villainess, Queen of Hearts Julia Erickson (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).”
Getting curiouser and curiouser, but still need convinced? Find more interesting tidbits about the ballet here.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opens Derek Deane’s zany Alice in Wonderland this weekend at the Benedum Center. Few things are impossible in this off-kilter world. Beginning with a surreal dive down the rabbit hole, illusion floods the stage with curiosities – a smorgasbord of doors, tutus made of playing cards, color-changing roses and size-shifting scenery. Seen through Deane’s creative lens on classical technique, the dancing complements the whimsy and wit of Lewis Carroll’s timeless story. Here are five things that will make you curiouser and curiouser about this blockbuster production:
1. You won’t believe your eyes.
Alice in Wonderland takes production value over the top. The scenic design does justice to the surrealist world Lewis Carroll and illustrator John Tenniel created for the page, morphing from scene to scene through an elaborate series of painted drop curtains and 3D set pieces, including a puzzling assortment of doors, the Caterpillar’s toadstool and the Duchess’ house. Illusions add to the wonder – like a size-changing Alice, roses that change color as they’re painted and the rabbit hole’s dizzying succession of floating teacups, clocks and over-sized objects.
2. It’s a Tchaikovsky ballet.
And you’d never guess he didn’t compose the score specifically for this production. The score is a masterful medley of Tchaikovsky orchestrations arranged, and added to, by Carl Davis. The score includes 15 excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “Album for the Young” among other whimsical choices.
3. It has a rock star creative team.
The production features costume and set designs by Sue Blane, costume designer for the original stage and screen versions of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and illusions by Paul Kieve, who consulted on some of the Harry Potter films. The concept and choreography come from inventive choreographer Derek Deane, who originally created the work for English National Ballet, the company he led as artistic director for nearly 10 years. Dean was awarded the Order of the British Empire for Excellence in Dance in 2000, and he’s choreographed three world premiere works for PBT: Hungry Heart . . . We All Have One! (2004), Simply Simon (2005) and Anything Goes! (2006).
4. You won’t recognize our dancers.
The wardrobe is utterly transformative. With 90 costumes, it brilliantly brings to life the curious characters Alice meets along her mind-bending journey – favorites from the original Carroll story like the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar and Queen of Hearts. Wardrobe also includes 18 wigs and 30 prosthetic pieces, like the Mat Hatter’s nose and chin, the White Rabbit’s nose, upper lip and ears, the Duchess’ jowls, nose and ears, and the Caterpillar’s nose. The character makeup can take hours for each performance.
5. The dancing is dreamy.
Don’t let the production value fool you – the choreography holds its own alongside the madcap illusions and scenery. For each of the Lewis Carroll characters, Deane has devised a quirky movement vocabulary – like the undulating dance of the Caterpillar or the harried hops (and virtuosic solos) of the White Rabbit – to give them space to show off both personality and technique. The production also taps into the classical sweep of the corps de ballet – first as a twirling garden of Tiger Lilies, Pansies and Sweet Peas and then as a deck of cards with square tutus and a neoclassical edge to their movements.
PBT presents Alice in Wonderland Feb. 10-19, at the Benedum Center for nine performances, including a 7:30 p.m. Valentine’s Day performance. Don’t miss this very important date. Get your seats before it’s too late!
PBT’s 2017-2018 Season lineup features the return of “Swan Lake” and PBT’s debut in “West Side Story Suite”- presented by UPMC – just in time for the centennial celebrations of Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein, who would celebrate their 100th birthdays in 2018.
The five-ballet season runs October 2017 through May 2018 and features: “Dracula;” “The Nutcracker;” “Swan Lake” with the PBT Orchestra; “PBT New Works,” a mixed repertory program at the August Wilson Center; and a season finale featuring Jerome Robbins’ “West Side Story Suite” and “In the Night,” also with the PBT Orchestra.
“This season is going to be a thrill and the timing, too, is great fun. We have ‘Dracula’ over Halloween weekend, ‘The Nutcracker’ to ring in the holidays and the great love story of ‘Swan Lake’ around Valentine’s Day,” said Terrence S. Orr, PBT artistic director. In March, we’ll give voice to emerging choreographers from our own company of dancers. And last but certainly not least is our tribute to the Robbins and Bernstein centennial celebrations with ‘West Side Story Suite’ – and ‘In the Night’ – a program that is going to show off the exceptional technique and acting of our dancers as well as some unexpected, and rarely heard, vocal talent.’”
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“Dracula” – Oct. 27-29, 2017 at the Benedum Center
Choreographer: Ben Stevenson | Music: Franz Liszt | Costumes: Judanna Lynn | Lighting: Timothy Hunter | Set Design: Thomas Boyd | World Premiere: Houston Ballet, March 13, 1997 (originally created as a co-production between Houston Ballet and PBT)
Over Halloween weekend, PBT brings back the deliciously spine-chilling “Dracula,” based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel – the grandfather of all vampire dramas. Dissatisfied with his bevy of undead brides, Count Dracula fixates on Svetlana, a young girl on the cusp of engagement, to satiate his thirst for fresh blood. A haunting score by Franz Liszt builds suspense while scenic designer Thomas Boyd’s fastidious studies of Balkan and Romanian architecture add authenticity to the 19th-century Transylvanian setting. The dancing also has teeth, with levitation, flying and pyrotechnics that make the choreography even more climactic. At the time of its premiere, the New York Times described it as a “spectacle of an order ballet audiences seldom see today.”
The Nutcracker – Dec. 1-27, 2017 at the Benedum Center
Choreography & Staging: Terrence S. Orr | Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky | Costumes & Scenic Design: Zack Brown | Lighting: Julie Duro | World Premiere: PBT, December 2002
“The Nutcracker” returns to the Benedum for 25 performances throughout December. Complete with flurrying snow, a colossal Christmas tree and magic tricks galore, this holiday spectacular features over 100 dancers, 210 costumes and Tchaikovsky’s exultant score. Since its 1892 premiere, this holiday tradition has grown into one of the best-known ballets of all time. PBT adds its own spin on the time and place with a turn-of-the-century setting incorporating Pittsburgh’s own landmarks, historical figures and personality. Each performance features a unique casting combination, giving regulars the chance to see a variety of dancers perform principal roles like Marie, the Nephew, the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.
Swan Lake with the PBT Orchestra – Feb. 16-25, 2018 at the Benedum Center
Choreographer: Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov | Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky | Costumes: Peter Farmer | World Premiere: Imperial Ballet, St. Petersburg, January 27, 1895
An evil enchantment and a mysterious love story give wings to a ballet that has captured the public imagination since 1895. Together with the live PBT Orchestra, PBT returns to “Swan Lake” for two weekends around Valentine’s Day. “Swan Lake” exemplifies classical technique – from the ballet en blanc swan scenes to the Black Swan’s famous 32 fouettés. But it’s the undulating port de bras of the swans – a movement quality unique to “Swan Lake” – that lends its own mystique to the classical vocabulary. Set to the stirring themes of Tchaikovsky’s score, the split personalities of Odette and Odile mirror the age-old battle between good and evil.
“Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre: New Works” – March 16-25, 2018 at the August Wilson Center
Choreography: Mixed repertory program of world premiere works by PBT dancers
PBT has built its repertory around an eclectic mix of classics, modern masterworks and new commissions from both seasoned and emerging choreographers. In March at the August Wilson Center, Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr will hand over the program to five choreographic voices from PBT’s own company of dancers: Amanda Cochrane, Julia Erickson, Yoshiaki Nakano, William Moore and Cooper Verona. Each choreographer will create a signature work on his or her fellow artists, offering audience members a personal, insightful look at the way today’s dancers interpret their own medium.
“UPMC Presents ‘West Side Story Suite’ + ‘In the Night’” with the PBT Orchestra – May 4-6, 2018 at the Benedum Center
“West Side Story”:
Choreography by: Jerome Robbins
Music by: Leonard Bernstein (“Prologue,” “Something’s Coming,” “Dance at the Gym,” “Cool,” “America,” “Rumble,” and “Somewhere Ballet,” from West Side Story, 1957)
Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim | Scenic Design: Oliver Smith | Costume Design: Irene Sharaff | Lighting Design: Jennifer Tipton | Premiere: May 18, 1995: New York City Ballet
“In the Night”:
Choreography by: Jerome Robbins
Music: Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne Opus 27, No. 1 (1835); Nocturnes Opus 55, No. 1 and No. 2 (1843); Nocturne Opus 9, No. 2 (1830-1831) for solo piano | Premiere: January 29, 1970, New York City Ballet | Costumes by: Anthony Dowell | Lighting by: Jennifer Tipton
PBT’s season finale celebrates the 100th birthdays of Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein, whose game-changing Broadway collaboration remains as relevant today as it was in 1957. “West Side Story Suite” samples classic songs and dances from the full-length musical and film. In this work, the dancers not only dance – they’ll sing excerpts from the famous Bernstein music and Stephen Sondheim lyrics. Tapping into the raw emotions that drove the full-length story, the dancers will take on the personas of Tony, Maria and the rival Jets and Sharks through the emotionally charged choreography that earned Robbins a Tony Award.
“West Side Story Suite” will share the program with another Robbins masterwork: his intimate 1940 work, “In the Night,” set to four Chopin nocturnes. With pas de deux for three couples, “In the Night” lifts the curtain on three very different relationships, exposing shades of love from tender to tumultuous.