Light in the Dark Casting

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has announced casting for the 2023-24 season opener, Light in the Dark. The mixed repertoire program features four poignant contemporary works that showcase powerful stories and passionate dance. The program includes Jennifer Archibald’s world premiere Sounds of the Sun, Barak Marshall’s company premiere Monger, Loss by Sasha Janes and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Lacromosa. These emotional ballets tell compelling stories of tragedy, hope and human connection.  The program runs October 27 – 29 at the Byham Theater.

View Casting


Images from Jennifer Archibald’s Sounds of the Sun studio rehearsal.

Matthew Griffin and Madeline Gradle
Tommie Lin O’Hanlon and Colin McCaslin
Artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Lucius Kirst, Josiah Kauffman and Kurtis Sprowls

 

 

Celebrate National Coming Out Day with PBT!

At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, we are committed to increasing equity, diversity and opportunity in the art of ballet. We believe that by bringing together people with diverse perspectives, histories and life experiences, we can create more vibrant experiences for everyone. 

As part of this, PBT is proud to support National Coming Out Day on October 11th.  This is the 25th year that this important day has been celebrated in the U.S.  This annual LGBTQ awareness day celebrates people acknowledging – both publicly and privately – their authentic selves and embracing who they are.  As part of National Coming Out Day, three PBT artists/staff members are sharing their coming out stories in hopes of inspiring others.


Kurtis Sprowls
Kurtis and his partner Phillip.

Can you share your coming-out story with us?

I knew I was gay from a very young age. I struggled to really accept my authentic self, and live up to the expectations of my hometown environment. In my late teens, I moved to Pittsburgh and I was able to find community and acceptance in myself. I started to come out little by little and was met with many different reactions. Looking back at this time in my life, I am grateful for the people who have always shown me unconditional love, and for the patience I granted people who needed time to process. I believe my coming out stands as a testament to that it does get better.

Where have you discovered a supportive and inclusive community?

I have had the great fortune to discover many supportive and inclusive communities since coming out. I have found a core group of queer friends who love and support me, and make up my chosen family. I have also found support and community at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. At PBT, everyone can be themselves and showcase what is unique and special about who they are. Through the support that PBT offers, everyone can confidently grow and flourish. 

What advice do you have for individuals struggling to come out?

My advice to someone who is struggling to come out is to trust your gut, take your time, and practice patience. There is no rush to come out, so take your time and space to really get to know your authentic self. Cultivating patience with yourself and others will not only bring you peace but will help strengthen the bonds and relationships you value. Coming out looks different for everyone, but you will never regret living authentically as your whole self. Always remember that you deserve love, acceptance, and respect just as much as anyone else.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who or what inspires you?

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am inspired by the generations of queer folks who came before me. I am incredibly lucky to have the life I have today because of their bravery and visibility.


Lish Reece
Lish and her partner Christie.

Can you share your coming-out story with us?

I really don’t have some grandiose movie story to share – it sort of just happened. I do want to say that I am blessed to have a loving and supportive family because I know that is not always the case.

Where have you discovered a supportive and inclusive community?

I have definitely discovered a supportive and inclusive community in the arts. I believe so many LGBTQ+ people are drawn to the arts even before they realize that they may be wondering about how they identify. The creative nature of our arts communities tends to value self expression. We are in the business of portraying others thoughts and feelings and words which hopefully creates a brave space for exploration. This environment also lends itself to further understanding of humans as a whole and the realization that we are all so different and wonderful and also so alike!

What advice do you have for individuals struggling to come out?

The biggest advice I have is to not feel pressured to come out, it is something that is deeply personal. Everyone’s experiences and situations are unique. Was coming out freeing to me? Absolutely it was. Yet you need to do what is right and safe for you. I believe the most important step is learning to love and appreciate yourself first because you are valid!

I grew up in a very small conservative town and I absolutely understand the difficulties that presents. I had already moved away when I finally acknowledged that being a part of the queer community was my truth. Thankfully the understanding and appreciation of people who identify as LGBTQ+ in those pockets of rural America are finally starting to progress.

If/when you decide to come out – just know that it is a continual process. I still find myself coming out to people that I haven’t met or haven’t seen since high school. Has it gotten easier and easier over the years? Completely yes. This is because I have become more and more comfortable with myself and also, thankfully, the world is evolving. It also certainly helps that I can just post a picture of myself and my partner to social media and I have “come out” just by living my life. My hope is someday “coming out” won’t even be a thing. We will all just be.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who or what inspires you?

I know I have worked in the arts for the majority of my life, but I actually draw quite a bit of inspiration from LGBTQ+ athletes. Professional athletes have such a visible platform and many LGBTQ+ people have used that stage to inspire and educate the world. Even the uptick of LGBTQ+ commercials during certain sports broadcasts has increased as of late. That representation can have a profound effect on someone whose circumstances may not allow them to see LGBTQ+ people on a daily basis.


Matthew Griffin
Matthew and his partner Alex.

Can you share your coming-out story with us?

I knew I was gay for a long time; but never thought I would come out. When I graduated high school and went to college, I realized a lot of the pressure I was feeling about coming out, I was putting on myself. So in college, where I knew I had a safe group of friends, and decided to just go for it and be my authentic self. Nobody batted an eye, so I brought my authentic self home with me on my first break. My family and hometown friends were unfaltering with their love and support. 

Where have you discovered a supportive and inclusive community?

I’ve found a supportive community in my friends and my family. I’ve also found a supportive community in the arts. I am grateful to be able to work at PBT where I can bring my full self to work everyday. 

What advice do you have for individuals struggling to come out?

Everyone’s journey is different. Give yourself the time you need and give yourself grace. Just know that there are people out there who love you and accept you for who you are. 

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who or what inspires you?

Inspiration is everywhere for me. Music, books, concerts, shows, movies, television, and the culture are all things that inspire and inform me. I’m inspired by fearlessness and authenticity. I’m inspired by the generations of queer people before me who paved the way for us to live our lives so freely today. 

Learn About Florence Waren

Frederic Apcar, Florence Waren and Edith Piaf

The central work in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 2023-24 season opener Light in the Dark is renowned choreographer Jennifer Archibald’s world premiere Sounds of the Sun. This documentary-based contemporary ballet celebrates the life and bravery of Florence Waren, a Jewish dancer who lived in Paris during World War II and worked with the French Resistance. 

Florence Waren was a famous dancer in both France and Germany during World War II.  Together with Frederic Apcar, she became part of one of the most popular ballroom dance teams in Europe  –  “Florence et Frederic.” After the occupation of Paris, Florence decided not to reveal her Jewish ancestry and to instead risk hiding in plain sight.

“She led a rather adventurous life,”  her husband Stanley Waren told The New York Times after her death. “Wherever she went, she somehow became part of the scene, and people helped her and she helped them. She didn’t want anything from anybody except to work. She was really one of those natural-born performers who loved what she was doing.”

20 Facts About Florence Waren’s Heroic Life

  1. She was born Sadie Rigal in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1917, one of seven children. 
  2. After seeing Ballet Russes as a child, Florence fell in love with dance and began taking lessons
  3. One of her lasting ballet memories was when a teacher hit her in the calf with a cane.  Florence grabbed the cane and broke it and was then forced to buy the teacher a new one before being allowed back in class.
  4. She moved to France in 1938 and was hired as a dancer by the famous Bal Tabarin Music Hall in Paris, changing her name to Florence soon after. 
  5. In 1939, she was offered a place in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, but World War II began before she could join.
  6. She was arrested held in an internment camp for several months in 1940 because she was South African, and therefore a British citizen (and as such a Nazi enemy alien).
  7. She and her dance partner Frederic Apcar often performed at the same clubs with world-renowned Édith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier.
  8. During the occupation of Paris, Florence frequently performed for German officers at the Bal Tabarin, while hiding her Jewish identity in the spotlight the entire time.
  9. She aided the French Resistance by hiding fellow Jews in her apartment, helping Jews find safe houses and smuggling supplies and guns.
    Florence Warren with her dance partner Frederic Apcar.
  10. After a performance at a French POW camp in Germany, Florence illegally collected letters prisoners had written to their relatives and took them back to France to distribute. 
  11. During the war, a French police officer covertly warned her that her house was going to be raided by the Nazis and that she needed to move the Jews that were hiding there.
  12. In 1944, Frederic rented a house in the suburbs to hide her and several other Jewish performers after learning Florence was to be arrested.
  13. Florence and Frederic saw American soldiers in tanks asking for directions to Paris in 1944 and followed them, witnessing the city’s liberation. 
  14. In 1948, she met Stanley Waren, an actor, director and teacher, while performing at the Copacabana in New York.
  15. On their first date, Florence and Stanley went to a delicatessen and got into such a loud argument that they were thrown out.
  16. They were married in 1949 and Florence decided to leave “Florence et Frederic.” 
  17. In New York, she began a new career, appearing in Broadway plays and on television, including The Ed Sullivan Show
  18. From 1973 until 1983, she was a professor of theater and dance at New York City College, heading the department for part of that time
  19. She was a dance panelist on the New York State Council on the Arts.
  20. She died in New York City in 2012 at the age of 95

 

Banner Photo: Florence Warren with her dance partner Frederic Apcar | All photos courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Apprentice Cecilia Hernandez

National Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15!  We were excited to sit down and talk with PBT artist Cecilia Hernandez to learn about some of her family’s cultural traditions and customs.

What is Hispanic Heritage Month? Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

 

Cecilia posing at a photoshoot.

Can you share a bit about your culture with us?

I am half Colombian and half Puerto Rican. Even though I was born in the U.S., my parents instilled many traditions. Both nationalities have delicious cuisines and music. We love to dance cumbia and salsa. Family is very important in our culture and we take care of our elders. 

Do you feel like your identity is tied to your heritage?  

Cecilia’s Tita with a cake she made from the recipe that supported her family.

My great-grandmother became a widow at 40 years old in Colombia and she baked cakes to help support her family of 9 children. To this day, we still use her recipe on special occasions to celebrate her. My grandmother is one of the most meaningful people in my life and one of the ways she kept my family, specifically the ladies, tied to our culture was throwing us quinceañeras, which is very popular in Latin countries. When most of my friends were having Sweet 16 parties, I had a traditional quinceañera for my 15th birthday with 14 friends as part of my “court.”

What are some of your favorite memories growing up?

One of my favorite memories about growing up in my culture is the Christmas celebrations. Colombians, and most Hispanics, celebrate on Christmas Eve, and we gather together, pray, dance, play games and open gifts late at night (which was my favorite part).

Cecilia in the studio rehearsing The Sleeping Beauty.

What are your favorite family traditions?

My favorite cultural tradition in my family is the family gatherings we would have each Saturday. We ordered Colombian food, talked about our week, danced, and played Dominos, which is a significant game in Hispanic culture. My grandfather is the best player I know!

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with Corps Member Christian García Campos

National Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15!  We were excited to sit down and talk with PBT artist Christian García Campos to learn about some of her family’s cultural traditions and customs.

What is Hispanic Heritage Month? Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Christian modeling the Theme & Variations costumes at Janet Campbell Fashion Show.

Can you share a bit about your culture with us?

I think Mexican culture is incredibly rich in every aspect, from the food to the architecture, from the music to the beautiful and varied sceneries. It’s so full of color and vibrancy, like the dresses worn for Mexican folklore, the incredibly elaborate mariachi suits, the “alebrijes” (imaginary creatures made up of a combination of animals), the “Voladores de Papantla” (Dance of the Flyers), the list is truly endless.

Christian in her Mexican folklore dress in kindergarten.

Do you feel like your identity is tied to your heritage?

It absolutely is. Latin people have this warmth about them, it’s probably one of the things I miss most from home. There is this carefree spirit that people carry. There’s never a lack of reasons to get together and celebrate, even if it’s just to be with each other. And I have to say, I’m definitely feisty.

What are some of your favorite memories growing up?

I want to say that my parents truly went above and beyond. They made everything special. In Mexico, the three wise men visit you just like Santa Claus does. Whenever they came to visit, our living room was turned upside down. Literally. There was hay all around and sometimes the horse would even leave a little present as well… a wall size letter was written outside, it was truly unbelievable. They made me believe it was all real.

Christian rehearsing in the studio.

What are your favorite family traditions?

I would have to say that our rituals during New Years Eve take the cake. As we ring in the new year, we have several tasks that need to be completed. There would be a suitcase, and someone would have to go around the block with it. This would be for future traveling. Someone would be throwing lentils outside for abundance. Someone would sweep the entrance to get rid of bad energies. All of this while someone rings a bell, eat your grapes and hug each other to receive the new year. I love my family.

Open Air at Hazelwood Green Casting Announced

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Open Air performance at Hazelwood Green will be happening on Friday, September 29 and Saturday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. The outdoor performance is free to attend and open to the community.

Register

Casting has been announced!

View Casting

In addition to PBT performances, the family-friendly event will include performances by other musical and dance artists, as well as art vendors, demonstrations, kids activities and food trucks all weekend.  PBT will also hold barre classes for adults and creative movement classes for kids. Additionally, Saturday is August Wilson Community Day and will include free activities from numerous local museums and arts organizations.  Open Air will run on Friday, Sept. 29 from 6:00-9:30 pm, Saturday, Sept. 30 from 11:00 am – 9:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 1 from 11:00 am – 5:00 pm.  See the full schedule here.

View Full Open Air Schedule

Hear From the Company and School Accompanists

Ballet and classical music are intrinsically linked.  Most beloved classical ballets from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and Swan Lake to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and Stravinsky’s The Firebird have sweeping musical scores that not only accentuate the dancing but help to express character’s feelings.  Most classical ballet scores, also stand on their own as music compositions even without the ballet.  

Many ballet theaters – including PBT – are fortunate enough to have pianists who play live music for classes and rehearsals.  In honor of Classical Music Month, we want to highlight PBT’s accompanists and how they feel live music impacts rehearsals. We’ll also show an inside look at their favorite pieces to play in the studio.

1. How do you believe live music impacts studio rehearsals?

Live music in the studios allows for in-the-moment artistic collaboration among dancers, teacher and musician. The musician responds immediately to the movement, the dancers react in turn to the dynamics of the music. Ideally, we are a healthy living organism, breathing and moving together; ideally, the musician is inspiring both teachers and dancers to create their best work in the moment, to improve each day as a technician and an artist.

I’m so glad Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School is committed to live music in the studios for all its students. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this project for so many decades.

2. What is one of your most favorite pieces to play in the studio?

I’m afraid I have too many favorite pieces to mention. There is a great thrill, at any moment, in matching a piece perfectly to the dance, no matter what the music. Even so, some things I love are: the slow movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (see Kenneth MacMillan’s Pas de Deux). It requires very slow moving choreography, so I don’t get to play it very often. I still love Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere and a few slow and evocative piano works of Bach and Mozart. I still enjoy playing the very sweet Minuet from Gluck’s Orfeo, Faure’s Sicillienne (from Jewels), and some selections from Copland’s Rodeo, including Saturday Night Waltz.


Juliet Winovich

1. How do you believe live music impacts studio rehearsals?

In an interactive dynamic environment like a ballet studio work,
Live music is, the spatial medium that unifies the group action. The quality of rhythm alone,
Is as powerful as turning on the light in a dark room.
Not only is live music a source of motivation and inspiration, it is also a tool that responds
quickly, adjusting as needed, to facilitate emergence.

2. What is one of your most favorite pieces to play in the studio?

It depends on the work being done at that moment.


Sun Chang:

1. How do you believe live music impacts studio rehearsals?

I believe it creates a sense of community and a feeling of support between the pianist, dancers, and the instructor. It also makes it feel very much like a living art form, and it feels creative!

2. What is one of your most favorite pieces to play in the studio?

I love playing the Rose Adagio from sleeping beauty by Tchaikovsky!


 

Maja Petrovic:

1. How do you believe live music impacts studio rehearsals?

Playing for dance classes and rehearsals is such a creative process, that process changes and affects the energy, the mood, and the dynamic of one’s dancing.

From the very first note we play, we initiate this inspiring collaboration with the dancer, and together we create an artistic space where they can express all those qualities in a different way every time they hear a certain piece of music.

2. What is one of your favorite pieces to play in the studio?

Being a classically trained pianist myself, I tend to gravitate towards classical piano pieces that I can arrange in ballet format, and I also enjoy excerpts from ballets. Some good examples are the 2nd movements of Ravel’s piano concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. From ballet repertoire, I enjoy playing La Source’s Romance, from Act 3, and scenes from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, and Romeo and Juliet.


Josh Malave:

1. How do you believe live music impacts studio rehearsals?

I believe live music in the classes creates a unity between everyone involved, we share in each other’s striving to make something that is real and which is good.

2. What is one of your favorite pieces to play in the studio?

One of my most favorite pieces to play is a waltz from the opera La fanciulla del West by Giacomo Puccini

Find Out What Our Artists Were Up to This Summer

During June and July, PBT Company artists have a well-deserved summer break before the new season begins.  Some of the PBT artists shared the different ways they spent their breaks outside of the PBT studios this summer!

JACK HAWN

I took a road trip up to Northern Michigan where I vacationed in cabins on a lake with my family, then all the way down to Miami and the Florida Keys and back to Pittsburgh. Stops and fun along the way included New River Gorge National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Asheville, Atlanta, and Orlando. Four weeks on the road and many memories in my Jeep! 


DANIELLE DOWNEY

I spent my summer flower farming — growing cut flowers for market bouquets, arrangements and events. I grew 50+ varieties and have farm-fresh bouquets available for purchase through the first frost this fall. I also just enjoyed the time off with my family, doing all the outdoor summer adventures, relaxing, and waiting on the arrival of baby #2 in October! 


MATTHEW GRIFFIN

This summer was an eventful one!  My partner and I started the process of getting ready to move to Pittsburgh! Amidst all of the chaos and the moving boxes, we did a getaway to Lake Michigan, saw the Taylor Swift Eras tour, and even had time for a family vacation to the Caribbean! We made our way to Pittsburgh in late July and settled in just in time to start our new jobs! Looking forward to experiencing everything the city has to offer! 


DIANA YOHE & JOE PARR

Joe and I spent most of the summer visiting our family and friends. We also added a sprung floor in our back shed, so we could dance and work out at home. (Thank you, PBT, for the Marley back from Covid times!) The biggest highlight was definitely visiting Long Boat Key, FL with family, which was incredibly relaxing and soul-filling. We spent time enjoying the sun and the sand!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


JONATHAN BREIGHT

I spent the summer at PBT teaching classes at the PBT School’s Company Experience and Intensive Summer Program!


JESSICA MCCANN

I’m currently almost 4 months post op, and I’m doing very well. I started with the company this August taking classes.
I recently started a podcast and have documented every part of my process so I can hopefully bring hope to other dancers out there going through the same thing in silence.
I want to be an example, and proof that coming back after a hip replacement is possible. It’s  happened before but it’s been poorly documented and hardly spoken about. I personally struggled to find examples before I got my surgery.

I had to take myself out for the end of our 2022/2023 season but my pain is gone and I’m working on planning my return performance! So it’s been a summer of metamorphosis for me!

Ballet Under the Stars Casting Announced

The casting for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s annual Ballet Under the Stars performance at Hartwood Acres has been announced! PBT will be performing at Hartwood Acres on Sunday, August 20 at 7:30 p.m. as part of Allegheny County’s 2023 Summer Concert Series.  The outdoor performance is free to attend and open to the community.

Attendees are invited to arrive early to enjoy picnics, food trucks and free kids’ stations, including grab-and-go crafts, face painting, balloon art and a dance class led by PBT team members.

From 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., PBT will host a pre-show Picnic in the Park. Join fellow ballet enthusiasts and PBT’s artistic director, Adam W. McKinney under the tent for drinks, dinner and the opportunity to meet PBT artists. Tickets are $100 for adults and $25 for children. Register online or call Associate Director of Development Aziza El Feil at 412-454-9127 for more information.

As the sun sets, PBT will present a mixed repertory performance featuring classical and contemporary works. 

Join Us in the Tent


Ballet Under the Stars is a free event but registration is recommended.

Register


Artists of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre | Photo: Michael Henninger

Programming and Casting:

La Esmeralda Pas de Deux

Choreography by Jules Perrot | Staged by Alexandre Silva

Artists: Ariana Chernyshev and David O’Matz 

Monger

Choreographer: Barak Marshall

Artists: PBT Company

Theme and Variations Excerpt

 Choreography by George Balanchine | © The George Balanchine Trust

Artists: Hannah Carter and Lucius Kirst

The Sleeping Beauty Act II Excerpt

Choreography by Marius Petipa

Aurora: JoAnna Schmidt

Prince Désiré: Corey Bourbonniere

Lilac Fairy: Diana Yohe

Corps de Ballet: Erin Casale, Ariana Chernyshev, Sujanya Dhillon, Christian García Campos, Madeline Gradle, Cecilia Hernandez, Abigail Huang, Caitlyn Mendicino

, Amanda Morgan and Grace Rookstool

Swan Lake Act II Pas de Deux

Choreography by Lev Ivanov | Staged by Barbara Bears

Odette: Tommie Lin O’Hanlon 

Siegfried: Colin McCaslin

Catharsis Excerpts

Choreography by Yoshiaki Nakano

Artists in 3rd Movement: Corey Bourbonniere, Hannah Carter, Jack Hawn, Jacob Miller and Grace Rookstool

Artists in 4th Movement: Corey Bourbonniere, Hannah Carter, Erin Casale, Christian García Campos, Madeline Gradle, Jack Hawn, Josiah Kauffman, Caitlyn Mendicino, Jacob Miller, Luke Mosher and Grace Rookstool

Finale

Choreography by Adam W. McKinney

Artists: Corey Bourbonniere, Erin Casale, Ariana Chernyshev, Christian García Campos, Matthew Griffin, Abigail Huang, Amanda Morgan, Luke Mosher, Tommie Lin O’Hanlon, Grace Rookstool and Kurtis Sprowls

 

Banner Image | Artists: Diana Yohe ; Photo: Avianna Adams

Meet Barbara Bears | Incoming Rehearsal Director

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) has named Barbara Bears as the organization’s new rehearsal director.  She will be taking over the role formerly held by Marianna Tcherkassky until her retirement in June. Bears was previously a dancer with the Houston Ballet for more than 20 years, including as a principal dancer for 15 of those years. After her retirement, she served as a teacher and coach for Houston Ballet, Houston Ballet 2, and the Ben Stevenson Academy before joining the professional company’s artistic staff as a ballet master in 2016.  Barbara answered a few questions for us to help Pittsburgh audiences get acquainted with her.

 

 

 

What was the first ballet you ever danced in onstage?

The first ballet I danced as a professional was George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. It was my first year with Houston Ballet and the first rep of the

 season. I was an understudy for the 3rd Theme, but due to a last-minute injury, danced the role opening night. I remember being so nervous and excited at the same time. It is definitely a special memory from my early career as a professional.

What are you most excited to do in Pittsburgh?

The Warhol Museum is a must! I also plan to carve out a day and see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water.

What is your guilty pleasure?             

Sweets! I love anything with dark chocolate! 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Being a full-time assistant to my French Bulldog, Po. Kidding aside, I enjoy HIIT training, watching movies, baking, spending time with my family, and long walks with Po.

Where was your favorite vacation spot? 

The Caribbean – I’ve been a certified scuba diver for over 30 years. 

What’s the most memorable day you’ve ever had and why?

The birth of my son. Being a Mom is the greatest gift. 

What was the last song you had stuck in your head?

Typically whatever ballet I happen to working on.   

What are you most looking forward to this season at PBT?

Wow, way too many to list. I’m most excited about working with Adam and the artists of PBT. I’m so excited to be part of this new chapter in PBT’s history. I believe exciting times are ahead.       

 

Meet New Apprentice Abigail Huang

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is delighted to announce that Abigail Huang will be joining PBT as a company apprentice for the 2023-24 season! 

Abigail Huang trained from the age of 13 at the San Francisco Ballet School. During her time there, she had the opportunity to dance in many roles with the company including  The Nutcracker (Clara), Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Swan Lake and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She was privileged to attend summer programs at Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Royal Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. 

 

 

 

Hometown: I was born and raised in Fremont, CA with my Mom, Dad, brother, and my dog, Cooper. My brother is close by as he attends Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. 

Age: 18

What are you most excited about doing in Pittsburgh?

I am so excited to learn from and perform with the incredible dancers of PBT. The repertoire is going to really challenge me as a performer and artist. I am looking forward to connecting with the Pittsburgh audiences. 

I am most nervous about my first winter. I wear a puffy coat when the temperature dips below 55 degrees in California, so I hope for a mild winter. 

What is your favorite ballet? 

That is a really hard question. It may be Don Quixote, it is a fun lighthearted ballet that really energizes audiences and is fun for every dancer on stage no matter how large or small your role is in the production. The dream scene in particular stands out as it feels like a show within the show.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not dancing?

I think my favorite hobby on weekends is sleeping in. I grew up in a very active family. I love the outdoors, especially the ocean. I just got scuba certified and love to surf. Art is a de-stressor for me. I rotate through several different mediums. I am currently doing a lot of crocheting, digital art, and playing several instruments.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasures are boba tea and trashy reality TV like “The Simple Life” and “Dance Moms”. I also love Trader Joe’s vegan pork rind chips. 

The Artistry of Marianna Tcherkassky

Marianna at the Smithsonian Museum exhibit posing next to her Giselle costume.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s long-time rehearsal director, Marianna Tcherkassky, has announced her retirement at the end of the 2022-2023 season. Tcherkassky has been a rehearsal director at PBT for 26 years. Prior to PBT, Tcherkassky danced with American Ballet Theatre for 26 years, 20 of which as a principal dancer.

“I have been so fortunate to enjoy two amazing careers, that as a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre for over two decades, and a second one as a Rehearsal Director for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, with the opportunity to help curate and bring to life through our beautiful dancers a prodigious array of repertoire,” Tcherkassky said. “I am deeply honored to have learned from and collaborated with all of the incredibly talented and dedicated artists in all aspects of my profession.”

In the ballet world, few individuals leave as profound an impact as Marianna Tcherkassky, Rehearsal Director at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT). Her expansive knowledge and expertise guide dancers to new heights, making her an irreplaceable asset. With her experience from her time as a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre to becoming a Rehearsal Director in Pittsburgh, her contributions are invaluable not only to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but the ballet community as a whole.

The Nutcracker: Marianna Tcherkassky and Mikhail Baryshnikov | Photo Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

Marianna’s passion for dance blossomed at a young age. Raised in Maryland, she was surrounded by classical music, thanks to her mother, a professional dancer and her first teacher. Dancing became an outlet for her emotions and a way to create her own world.

At 14, Marianna earned a scholarship to George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in New York City. This opportunity paved the way for her audition and subsequent acceptance into the esteemed American Ballet Theatre (ABT) at just 17 years old. It was at ABT that her career took a pivotal turn.

Marianna-Tcherkassky-Giselle
Marianna Tcherkassky-Giselle Photo Shoot | Photo: Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

In 1980, shortly before a performance of Giselle, Gelsey Kirkland, the lead ballerina, was injured. With limited time to spare, Mikhail Baryshnikov turned and asked Marianna to take on the role. Leaving only five days to prepare, she rehearsed tirelessly with Baryshnikov and delivered a breathtaking performance that garnered critical acclaim.

Throughout her career, Marianna continued to refine her artistry and expand her repertoire. Her unwavering dedication and pursuit of excellence made her a true force in the dance world. Today, as Rehearsal Director, she imparts her wisdom to a new generation of company and school dancers -inspiring them with her grace and passion.

Giselle: Marianna Tcherkassky and Kevin McKenzie | Photo Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

Marianna believes that great dancers must also be great actors, emphasizing the importance of conveying emotion and storytelling through movement while dancing.

Beyond the studio, she finds inspiration in nature, observing its intricate balance and drawing parallels to the dance of life. Her dedication to the art form is steadfast and she feels fortunate to exist in a world where creativity, productivity and positivity converge.

Marianna Tcherkassky’s contributions to ballet are immeasurable. Her expertise, passion and dedication continue to shape the future of dance, leaving an enduring legacy that will inspire generations to come.

After retiring, Tcherkassky says there are many new possibilities on the horizon to which she looks forward, including spending time in nature, bird watching, visiting family and friends across the country and spending time with her husband Terry at his vintage car groups and shows.

A celebration of Marianna Tcherkassky’s career at Pittsburgh Ball Theatre is being planned to occur during the company’s December 2023 production of The Nutcracker. The event date and details will be announced soon.

Meet Raymond Rodriguez | Dean of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) has just named Raymond Rodriguez as the organization’s first Dean of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, effective June 5, 2023. In this role, he will oversee the Children’s, Student and Pre-Professional divisions of PBT School. Rodriguez most recently served as the Academy Director of The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago. To better introduce him to Pittsburgh audiences, we sat down with him and asked him to answer a few questions about himself.

Get to Know Raymond

What was the first ballet you ever danced in onstage? 

The first ballet I danced in on stage was La Sylphide.  I was a student at American Ballet Theatre School. I was selected to perform a children’s role in the Company’s production at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City, and my dance partner was no other than actress Sarah Jessica Parker. 

What is your favorite part of overseeing a ballet school?

My favorite part of overseeing a ballet school is witnessing students grow and develop into skilled dancers and human beings.  Dance is transformative. To see students learn self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-awareness and be creative individuals in this world is truly remarkable. Providing access and exposure can lead to life-changing opportunities.

What is your favorite ballet to watch?

My favorite ballet to watch is Romeo and Juliet, danced to the hauntingly beautiful Sergei Prokofiev score.  It can be a profound emotional experience to witness the dancers’ storytelling combined with the lush musical score.  The dancers need to execute technical expertise while simultaneously being storytellers, exhibiting vulnerability and acting nuances; dancers possessing both qualities lead to memorable performances for me. 

What are you most excited to do in Pittsburgh?

I’m most excited to learn and explore the community and its diverse neighborhoods.  In addition, I look forward to experiencing the city’s many cultural institutions. 

What is your guilty pleasure?

I am pampering myself with a day at the spa with a deep-tissue massage.  

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spending a quiet day with my husband and fur baby is my guilty pleasure. In addition, I love to spend the day cooking and binge-watching the latest series on Netflix.

Where was your favorite vacation spot?

My favorite vacation spot, as of today, has been the Mexican beach resort of Puerto Vallarta.  I’ve enjoyed discovering the local culture, diverse people, food, art galleries, vibrant nightlife of the iconic Malecon, and stunning sunsets.

If you could meet anyone in the world today, who would you meet?

I would love to meet actress, dancer, and singer Rita Moreno.  The Puerto Rican star has been a trailblazer in the arts for seven decades, having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT) Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other accolades.  She has been an inspiration to me and many other aspiring Latino performers. 

What’s the food you usually refuse to share?

My mom’s arroz con gandules, pernil, and platano maduro.

What was the last song you had stuck in your head?

The Best by Tina Turner

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Announces Company Updates for the 2023-2024 Season

Artistic Director Adam W. McKinney has promoted three artists for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) upcoming season, which runs from October 2023 to May 2024. 

After the closing performance of The Sleeping Beauty on May 21, McKinney surprised the three company artists by announcing their promotions onstage. Those promoted were:

  • Tommie Lin O’Hanlon of Pittsburgh, PA to Principal artist
  • Grace Rookstool of Whidbey Island, WA to Soloist artist
  • Madeline Gradle of Falls Church, VA to the Corps de Ballet

Additionally, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is pleased to welcome four promising artists into the company for the 2023-2024 season. The new hires resulted from PBT company auditions in April that saw more than 800 applicants in New York, Pittsburgh and online auditions. PBT’s newest members include:

  • Gustavo Ribeiro, Soloist artist, from Miami City Ballet
  • Matthew Griffin, Corps de Ballet, from Cincinnati Ballet
  • Emry Amoky, Apprentice artist, from Houston Ballet ll
  • Nathan Smith, Apprentice artist, from Miami City Ballet School

“I am honored and excited to promote Tommie, Grace and Madeline. They are inspiring artists who have worked tirelessly and deserve every bit of their successes,” said Adam W. McKinney, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s artistic director. “I am also thrilled to welcome Gustavo, Matthew, Emry and Nathan to PBT. They will make excellent additions to our artistic team, and I look forward to working closely with them.” 

About PBT’s Newly Promoted Artists

Tommie KestenTommie Lin O’Hanlon has been promoted to Principal artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Pittsburgh native Tommie Lin joined PBT in 2018 from the PBT School Graduate Program, and was promoted to Soloist artist in 2020. She trained with Miami City Ballet School and Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, and completed summer intensives at the School of American Ballet and PBT School. She has performed in PBT productions of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, and her repertoire also includes George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht, Valse Fantaisie, Western Symphony, Divertimento No. 15 and Tall Girl in Rubies, as well as Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces and Bluebird Pas de Deux in The Sleeping Beauty.

 

 

Grace Rookstool has been promoted to Soloist artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.  Grace was born and raised on Whidbey Island, Washington, and began her classical ballet training at Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle when she was eight years old. She completed the Professional Division Program and danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet in many productions, including The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Grace was selected for an exchange program with Dresden Semperoper Ballett where she performed as a guest apprentice in La Bayadère. She joined PBT as a member of the Corps de Ballet in 2019.

 

 

Madeline Gradle has been promoted to PBT’s Corps de Ballet.  A native of Falls Church, Virginia, she joined Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as an apprentice from the PBT School Graduate Program in 2021. Madeline received early dance training with Arlington Center for Dance and The Washington School of Ballet, and attended summer programs with American Ballet Theatre: New York, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Exploring Ballet with Suzanne Farrell. Madeline danced as an apprentice with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet for four years, expanding her repertoire with George Balanchine’s Chaconne, Stars and Stripes, Tzigane and Walpurgisnacht, among others. She has performed with PBT in productions of George Balanchine’s Rubies, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Terrence S. Orr’s The Nutcracker. Additionally, Madeline enjoys teaching in the PBT School’s Children Division and PBT Dance & Wellness.

About PBT’s New Hires

Gustavo Ribeiro has been hired as a Soloist artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Gustavo was born in Vitoria, Brazil, and received full scholarships to Palucca Hochschule for Tanz Dresden- Germany, Joffrey Academy of Dance and Orlando Ballet School. Ribeiro was a soloist and former member of the Washington Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and most recently Miami City Ballet. Ribeiro is now a principal guest artist, teacher, choreographer and coach. He has performed in Brazil, Canada, Europe and across the USA. His repertoire includes featured roles in Petite Mort, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, Three Preludes, The Four Temperaments, Diamonds, Piano Concerto no.2, Theme and Variations, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dracula, among other works choreographed by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp, Val Caniparoli, Jiří Kylián and Stanton Welch. Ribeiro has also earned many awards for his excellence in choreography. He has choreographed for Kansas City Ballet, Orlando Ballet, among other companies and schools. He is also an American Ballet Theatre Curriculum and Progressing Ballet Technique certified instructor.

 

Matthew Griffin will be joining PBT’s Corps de Ballet for the 2023-24 season. Matthew began his ballet training in Sarasota, Florida at the International Ballet of Florida under the direction of Sergiy Mykhaylov and Darya Fedotova. Matthew graduated from Butler University (Indianapolis, IN) in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Dance Arts Administration degree. Griffin began his professional career with Cincinnati Ballet as an Apprentice for the 2017-2018 Season. He was promoted to New Dancer in 2018 and the Corps de Ballet in 2019. Griffin has performed featured roles in classical and contemporary ballets including Petal and Balance by Helen Pickett, Kiss by Stephanie Martinez, Cinderella by Victoria Morgan and works by Ohad Naharin, Twyla Tharp, Jiří Kylián, George Balanchine, Jennifer Archibald, Septime Webre, Amy Seiwert and others.

 

Emry Amoky is joining Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as an Apprentice for the 2023-2024 season. Emry trained at the Houston Ballet Academy and was a member of Houston Ballet ll.  Some of the ballets he has performed in include Peter Pan, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Raymonda and Paquita

 

 

 

 

 

Nathan Smith is joining Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as an Apprentice for the 2023-2024 season. He trained in the pre-professional program at Miami City Ballet School and the American Academy of Ballet. Some of the ballets in which he has performed include Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, The Nutcracker and Jerome Robbins’s 2&3 Part Inventions.

 

Learn How Our Artists Get Their Beauty Sleep in Preparation for The Sleeping Beauty This Weekend

The Sleeping Beauty is a classical ballet that has been beloved worldwide for more than 130 years.  It features the traditional fairy tale story of a princess cursed to eternal sleep who is awoken by true love’s kiss.   Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) will present The Sleeping Beauty May 19-21, 2023 at the Benedum Center.  

While Princess Aurora never got the opportunity to prepare for her deep sleep, we asked some of the PBT artists what their favorite bedtime ritual is before they go to sleep each night.

Tickets and show information for The Sleeping Beauty can be found at pbt.org.

Buy Tickets

Hannah Carter
Hannah Carter
Principal Dancer at PBT
Roles in The Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora, Lilac Fairy

“I love my bed! I love my bed so much! If it was up to me I would get into bed every night as soon as my son is down, I’ve had dinner and showered! But my husband is the complete opposite, so we meet in the middle and I’m usually in bed about 10 pm. As someone that sits at a desk all day, he is very ready to be active and busy in the evenings while I am exhausted and just want to relax. If my body is feeling achy and I’ve had a hard day I usually have an Epsom salt bath (which I love as much as my bed) before I shower and usually take that time to do some extra skin care as well like a face mask or ice rolling, eye patches etc. After I’ve picked up the toys and cleaned the kitchen from dinner we like to sit down and watch an episode or two of whatever tv series we have going at the time, I usually last about 15 minutes before I fall asleep… and then wake up to my husband telling me I should go upstairs to bed, which I’ll happily oblige!”

 

 

Tommie KestenTommie Lin O’Hanlon
Soloist at PBT
Roles in The Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora, Princess Florine, Energy Fairy

“My favorite routine before I go to sleep includes lots of self-care! After getting in the door and playing with my puppies, I enjoy taking an Epsom salt bath to relax and soothe my sore muscles from the long rehearsal day I just had. Next, I shower and remove my makeup, starting my skincare routine. I double cleanse to make sure I’ve got all the sweat from the day off. When I get out of the shower, I actually sit with my feet in an ice bucket as I put all my “lotions and potions” on (such a great hack if you wanna multitask!).

After all that, I have dinner and relax on the couch for a while. Usually, I’m sewing pointe shoes during this step! Finally, I crawl into bed with my adorable little Frenchies, Pork and Beans, and we get our BEAUTY SLEEP! In true Aurora fashion!!”

 

JoAnna Schmidt

JoAnna Schmidt
Soloist at PBT
Roles in The Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora, Abundance Fairy, Diamond Jewel

“Lately, I’ve been falling asleep on the couch for a bit with my dog, Tiger. That’s after we’ve been listening to NPR on the radio or watching a silly TV show, like Broad City or Fresh Prince. Then, one of us decides it’s time to migrate to the bed. So I’ll wash my face, brush my teeth, and I’ve been putting some magnesium spray on my ankle, as of late. After that, I’m usually asleep pretty quickly, but if not, I might do a guided meditation or some light reading.”