Danielle Downey’s Favorite PBT Moments

After serving as an artist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for more than 17 years, Danielle Downey, a Corps de Ballet member, will retire on May 18, 2024. During her tenure with PBT, she has showcased her talent in more than 50 productions. After her retirement, Danielle and her husband will be running Ridgemeade Farm, a regenerative farm in Farview, PA . The farm will have vegetables, pasture-raised animals, a distillery and Downey’s specialty of growing cut flowers for flower subscriptions, florists and weddings/events. Here, she reflects on some of her career highlights and favorite roles throughout the years.

Ballet: The Nutcracker by Terrence S. Orr
Roles: Multiple, including Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen and Arabian (Elegance)
Year: Annually
“This ballet holds a special place in my heart because I’ve performed it every single year since I was a little girl. From a baby mouse, toy soldier, and party girl, to every female dancing corps de ballet role, and even principal roles like “Sugar Plum” and “Snow Queen.” My favorite of which is commonly known as “The Arabian,” now known as “Elegance” at PBT.
It’s the ballet I think I’ll miss performing the most, especially at Christmastime. I very much look forward to continuing the annual tradition, this time as an audience member with my two young daughters by my side.”

Ballet: Swan Lake by Terrence S. Orr (2010, 2014, 2018) and Susan Jaffe (2022)
Role: Big Swan
Year: 2010, 2014, 2018, 2022
Swan Lake is my favorite full-length classical ballet. I’ve had the opportunity to revisit this work five different times throughout my career and to perform it on tour in St. Louis in 2006 while I was still a Grad Student.
It is a long, difficult, and demanding ballet, and certainly puts a toll on the dancer’s body, but I find it incredibly fulfilling. I find myself getting lost in the music and all of the aches and pains melt away. ‘Big Swans’ is a favorite role of mine and the very end of the ballet in Terrence S. Orr’s version with the orchestra led by Charles Barker is my absolute favorite moment on stage.”

Ballet: La Bayadère by Marius Petipa
Role: Third Shade Variation
Year: 2015
“I danced the “Kingdom of the Shades” scene as part of the PBT School Grad Program performance, and then had the opportunity to do the full ballet on the vast Benedum stage.
I’m not at all afraid of heights, but there’s nothing quite like doing all of those arabesques winding down a tall, rickety ramp in a tutu where you can’t see your feet beneath you. After that, performing the adagio was an empowering and favorite moment with my fellow corps de ballet ladies – all of in perfect unison.
During the COVID lockdown, we had the opportunity to recreate that scene virtually, and that had its own set of unique challenges — including dancing in the grass of my backyard on a very blustery day, trying to dance in sync with the rest of the girls (and PBT Music Director) Yoland Colin who played the piece of music) when we weren’t together, and not seeing the final product until it was edited to look like the Zoom grid. I’ll always look back on that video and feel proud of what we were able to accomplish under trying circumstances.”

Ballet: Rubies by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust
Role: Tall Girl
Year: 2019

“Being the tallest girl in the corps has had its challenges, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to perform the ‘tall girl’ role in George Balanchine’s wonderful work Rubies.”

Ballet: Le Corsaire by Marius Petipa
Role: Odalisques
Year: 2016
“Performing a production as big as Le Corsaire felt like a dream for a company the size of PBT, but we pulled it off and it will always be a highly memorable performance. Working with Anna Marie Holmes, who set this production, for several weeks was challenging yet rewarding. She is an inspiring coach who pushed us all to a higher level. She worked with me personally on a fast, jumping variation, which is not among my strengths nor a part I would typically be cast in. By the time the shows came, however, I felt prepared, stronger than ever, and ready to do it!”

Ballet: Petite Mort by Jiří Kylián
Year: 2015, 2018
“Kylian’s Petite Mort is my favorite contemporary ballet. I love the music, the themes, and the partnering. I also enjoyed revisiting it a few years later for a donor performance in Palm Beach.”

Ballet: Western Symphony by George Balanchine ©The George Balanchine Trust
Role: Principal
Year: 2015

“This is a Balanchine ballet that I had so much fun performing onstage. I love the traditional American theme and music and was honored to dance the lead girl in the second movement. I enjoyed working with Bart Cook who set the ballet, and even got some coaching by former PBT Artistic Director, the late Patricia Wilde.”

Ballet: Step Touch by Dwight Rhoden
Year: 2009

Step Touch is the first Dwight Rhoden piece I ever danced. His choreographic process is a challenge for the way I think, but once you get it into your body, it feels natural and fun. We went on to perform that ballet many times over the years throughout Pittsburgh, in Hilton Head, and even on tour in Israel.”

Ballet: Maelstrom by Mark Morris
Year: 2012

Maelstrom is a beautiful contemporary ballet with elegant, slow partnering work (thanks to my longtime partner Cooper Verona) in the second movement, followed by the joyful and playful ensemble dancing in the third movement. This is another piece that made it all the way to Israel.”

Ballet: Theme and Variations by George Balanchine ⓒ The George Balanchine Trust
Year: 2007, 2023

“This ballet holds a special place in my heart because it always seemed to mark major milestones in my career.
As a student, it was during this show that I learned I would be hired into the company. A few months later it was the very first ballet I danced as a professional dancer when we toured to Wolf Trap in 2007. Finally, it was the very last ballet I danced in — I was 4 months pregnant in that performance and then went onto maternity leave with my second baby.”

Photos courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre