Storytelling in Motion Sneak Peek: “Catharsis”

Written by Denise Mosley-Moore

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) first production of the 2022-2023 season is Storytelling in Motion, a mixed repertoire showcase of contemporary ballet. Storytelling in Motion features PBT’s own Principal Dancer Yoshiaki Nakano’s Catharsis, a world premiere that celebrates the transformative power of human connection and community support. 


“I’m so grateful to choreograph with dancers I know because I can connect with them. I can relate to them,” Nakano explained. “I know them. I know how they dance,” he continued. This is Nakano’s fifth commissioned mainstage work for the PBT Company.


When describing his choreographic process, Nakano expressed, “I always start with music. The music always inspires me.” Nakano’s initial inspiration for Catharsis was “Moonlight Sonata: Adagio,” a rearrangement and performance by Maya Beiser that is based upon Beethoven’s solo “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2: Sonata quasi una fantasia.” Beiser’s rendition features a very prevalent heartbeat, which Nakano says he “fell in love with” when he heard it for the first time. “If you strip everything, we are bones, muscles, and organs. So, the heartbeat is the center of humans,” explains Nakano.


Catharsis consists of four movements that shed light on the human capacity to connect through shared values, authenticity, support and empathy. Viewers will be entranced by the progressively deeper connections the dancers make throughout the piece as dancers layer the tenderly expressive, yet demanding choreography with increasingly greater levels of human connection through touch, emotion and eye contact.


The first movement reveals a striking disconnection between a group of dancers who move in unison with crisp, hypnotizing choreography while three soloists discreetly separate from the group to demonstrate feelings of loneliness that we as humans often feel in the midst of others.  In the second movement Masahiro Haneji and Josiah Kauffman command the stage with heart-wrenching solos emoting the feelings of intense isolation and frustration they feel for being unseen and unheard by the rest of the group. There is a glimmer of hope for reconnection when solo dancers Hannah Carter and JoAnna Schmidt gracefully depart from the group and seemingly glide across the stage to re-engage Masahiro and Josiah with a gentle touch to their faces. 


In the third movement of Catharsis Hannah and JoAnna inspire a deeper connection among the rest of the group through touch as well. The women are joined by three other dancers who anchor them through what seems like an endless, yet seemingly effortless series of breathtaking and extremely demanding lifts. The piece crescendos with the fourth and final movement that Nakano describes as “much brighter, more contemporary and neoclassical” in contrast to the first three movements. For the first time in the piece, the dancers begin to exchange eye contact, which Nakano believes to be a critical and healing component of human connection.  “Humans are social beings,” he says. “We all need support,” Nakano adds.


When asked what he’d like the audience to feel when they witness the world premiere of Catharsis, Nakano explains that he wants the audience to appreciate the beauty of this choreography while being reminded that although they may feel lonely at times, they are never truly alone. “You can find someone who relates to you and you can be yourself there.”

Make sure to see Catharsis, along with two other innovative, contemporary pieces — Nacho Duato’s Duende and Helen Pickett’s The Exiled — at Storytelling in Motion, running Oct. 7-9 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center! Check out the preview video here.

Photography: Aviana Adams

Buy Tickets

Casting for “Storytelling in Motion” is Announced!

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has announced casting for Storytelling in Motion. The 22 – 23 season kicks off with “a taste of the world in Pittsburgh,” highlighting innovative, thought-provoking and athletic works choreographed by Helen Pickett (The Exiled), Nacho Duato (Duende) and PBT’s own Principal Dancer, Yoshiaki Nakano (Catharsis). Storytelling in Motion runs Oct. 7 – 9 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center!

Get Tickets


The Exiled

Fri, Oct. 7 and Sat., Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 8 and Sun., Oct. 9 at 2:00 p.m.
The Proprietors Gabrielle Thurlow and William Moore Amanda Morgan and Lucius Kirst
Thomas Corey Bourbonniere Kurtis Sprowls
Diana Tommie Lin O’Hanlon Jessica McCann
Margaret Hannah Carter Diana Yohe



Fri, Oct. 7 and Sat., Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 8 and Sun., Oct. 9 at 2:00 p.m.
Hannah Carter JoAnna Schmidt
Marisa Grywalski Grace Rookstool
Danielle Downey Caitlyn Mendicino
Christian García Campos Cecilia Hernandez
Erin Casale Ariana Chernyshev
Madeline Gradle Madeline Gradle
Masahiro Haneji Josiah Kauffman
Colin McCaslin Joseph Parr
David O’Matz Jacob Patrick Miller
Jack Hawn Jonathan Breight
Luke Mosher Luke Mosher



Fri, Oct. 7 and Sat., Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Sat., Oct. 8 and Sun., Oct. 9 at 2:00 p.m.
Jessica McCann Corey Bourbonniere Erin Casale Sam DerGregorian
Caitlyn Mendicino Masahiro Haneji Danielle Downey Josiah Kauffman
Amanda Morgan Jack Hawn Christian García Campos Lucius Kirst
Tommie Lin O’Hanlon Jacob Patrick Miller Marisa Grywalski Colin McCaslin
Grace Rookstool William Moore Gabrielle Thurlow David O’Matz
JoAnna Schmidt Kurtis Sprowls Diana Yohe Joseph Parr


Explore Storytelling in Motion 

Photo Credits | Artists: JoAnna Schmidt and Gabrielle Thurlow | Photo: Duane Rieder

Storytelling in Motion Sneak Peek: “The Exiled”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s first production of the 2022-2023 season is Storytelling in Motion, a mixed repertoire showcase of contemporary ballet. The production features Helen Pickett’s piece The Exiled, which diverges from traditional ballet in both content and set design. 

The Exiled features a large plexiglass room, where three of the five characters are confined during the entirety of the piece. The three incompatible strangers are destined to spend eternity together in the room, while two characters called the Proprietors function as the story’s curators and instigators, creating a cat-and-mouse dynamic. The Proprietors also serve as narrators, diverging from ballet tradition with a spoken performance. 

For choreographer Helen Pickett, the unusual set of The Exiled was created to “investigate the concepts of containment: limited space to move and negotiate and the physical responses to the forced confines, which included an actual wall to bump up against,” Pickett explained. “In addition, I wanted to combine the above ideas with the psychological wall/barriers between three strangers who are locked into a one-room space. How do three vastly different individuals cope with each other? How are alliances built, destroyed and accepted?”

Former Artistic Director Susan Jaffe is well acquainted with The Exiled, having seen it during its first ever performance and knew it would be a perfect fit for Storytelling in Motion as she planned the 22-23 season. 

“I actually got to see The Exiled in Atlanta, where it premiered,” Jaffe recalled. “I drove eight hours from Winston Salem just to see that work. I was so impressed with it. We did Helen Pickett’s Petal last year during Season Premiere, and now we’re doing The Exiled.” 

According to Jaffe, “My interpretation of that plexiglass box is a place where you can’t get out – you are captured in that space. But it’s also transparent, so to me, it’s like being a voyeur. It feels like looking into an apartment building or even looking at a television set. It’s one step removed, but in a way it magnifies what the dancers are doing and what they are saying and makes it unusual enough that you’re hyper focused on the work.” 

Pickett echoed Jaffe’s interpretation, stating that, “With this ‘a-day-in-the-life’ story, I wished to set up an even more pronounced voyeuristic aspect for the audience. A transparent wall creates a greater sense that we might be watching something we shouldn’t and it forces questions about the fourth wall barrier as well. On this day of reckoning, we, the audience, are directly asked to participate as witnesses by The Proprietors. We learn that the three other characters, all strangers to each other, are in this space because of their life choices. The Proprietors see their job as a service, and have invited us to join ‘the fun.’ The antics ensue and eventually the three strangers face their realities. 

I put enough people inside the space to make the movement puzzle more challenging. I knew The Proprietors could breach the confines, creating more tension for the confined three. ”

On the intended message of the piece, Pickett commented that, “There is no intended message. It is a study in human nature. These PBT dancers are exceptionally generous in their storytelling, both with their physical and emotional space.” 

According to Jaffe, Pickett actually reworked and rewrote part of the script specifically for PBT dancers. Pickett will come to Pittsburgh to teach the piece in person to the company dancers. 

“Helen is one of the top female choreographers in the world, and we’re really fortunate to be able to perform her work,” Jaffe remarked.

Pickett reflected that, “I want to thank the extraordinary Sarah Hillmer who contributed greatly to the development and furthering of The Exiled. And I wish to thank Susan Jaffe, who saw the premiere of The Exiled, and the entire PBT organization. We are better together!” 

Make sure to see The Exiled, along with two other innovative contemporary pieces — Nacho Duato’s Duende and a new piece choreographed by PBT’s own principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano — in Storytelling in Motion, running Oct. 7-9 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. Check out the preview video here.

Buy Tickets


Storytelling in Motion Sneak Peek: “Duende”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s first production of the 2022-2023 season is Storytelling in Motion, a mixed repertoire showcase of contemporary ballet. Storytelling in Motion features Nacho Duato’s piece Duende, which, like many of Duato’s pieces, was inspired by his relationship with the music (in this case, Claude Debussy’s ethereal score). The music determined and molded Duato’s approach to the choreography. 

The result is a transcendental and sculptural performance as movement and sound become one in Duende

Former Artistic Director Susan Jaffe explained her relationship with Duende’s creator and why she chose to include his work when she was planning the 22-23 season: “Nacho Duato is one of the foremost choreographers in the world. Duende was actually supposed to be performed by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2020, and then the week before the performance, the pandemic hit. The company was fully rehearsed and ready to go, but they never got to perform it. So I said, “My goodness, we have to do Duende for Storytelling in Motion!” 

Jaffe described the piece as “gorgeous, sculptural and whimsical,” a sentiment echoed by Nacho Duato himself. 

“In a playful way, the ballet also investigates the means of expression of the different meanings of the word that gives it its name: having duende could be taken to mean having personal charm or magic in flamenco art; and duendes, depending on whether they were found in children’s stories or in the imagination of superstitious people, would have quite a different character,” Duato explained. 

In terms of audience experience, Duato calls for viewers to “surrender themselves to the fantasy world and be transported to a dimension where the ordinary laws of human life lose their power and significance.” 

Make sure to see Duende, along with two other innovative contemporary pieces — Helen Pickett’s The Exiled and a new world premiere choreographed by PBT’s own principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano — at Storytelling in Motion – running Oct. 7-9 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center! 


Buy Tickets