On the Rise: Lillian Di Piazza

August 31, 2014

The Pennsylvania Ballet soloist transforms for classical and contemporary roles alike.

Di Piazza in Coppélia. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

With an easy elegance, 24-year-old Lillian Di Piazza gravitates to lyrical roles. But she’ll take on any challenge. Promoted last season from the corps to soloist, she shifts from percussive jazziness to supple lushness, zeroing in on musicality and choreographic intention. Her adaptability and quick integration of corrections combine with what both Sandra Jennings, Balanchine Trust répétiteur, and Roy Kaiser, outgoing artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, note as her most striking attribute: her fearlessness.

Di Piazza wasn’t always that way. Her initial training at Maryland Youth Ballet emphasized acting and expression, and then she refined her technique at School of American Ballet, lapping up the Balanchine style. Though she came to Pennsylvania Ballet II in 2008 and joined the main company the next year, she’s taken a while to blossom. Her dancing kicked into high gear during a 2012 summer gig, when Ballet Next’s Michele Wiles coached her in losing her shyness and being unafraid to dance big. Says Di Piazza, “You have to be open to possibly not being perfect—that’s how you can grow.”

She’s omnivorous in her stylistic tastes, applying the speed and technical brilliance developed at SAB to Balanchine roles like “Rubies” and drawing on her expressiveness in featured parts in works by Matthew Neenan and Jirí Kylián.

At the end of last season, she debuted as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream on opening night at the Kennedy Center. And when Kaiser had to fill another role that night because of an injured dancer, he didn’t hesitate to ask Di Piazza to tackle that, too. “She did beautifully and it didn’t phase her,” he says.

Titania, Coppélia, Sugar Plum, “Rubies,” “Emeralds,” all these classics of the repertoire, along with PA Ballet’s contemporary works, are raising the bar for Di Piazza. But with her confidence and versatility, there’s no doubt that she’s ready.