Pennsylvania Ballet Loses More Than a Third of Its Dancers

Photo by Jim Lafferty

Angel Corella is making major moves at Pennsylvania Ballet: The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last night that of the company's 43 dancers, 12 did not have their contracts renewed for next season, and five have decided to leave.

It's no surprise that Corella is making some changes to the roster (this is the first season he's allowed to do so under union rules). He's moving the company away from its Balanchine roots to more contemporary rep and classical full-lengths. And his casting first-year apprentices as Kitri and Basilio in Don Quixote last month made it clear he was ready to shake things up.

But I don't think anyone outside the company expected the turnover to be quite this large.

Among the dancers let go were longtime principals Francis Veyette and Brooke Moore. Principal Lauren Fadeley (Veyette's wife) chose to leave to become a soloist at Miami City Ballet. Soloist Evelyn Kocak was also let go, and told the Philadelphia Inquirer she plans to pursue freelance work in New York City.

Taking the place of the former principals are current soloists Lillian DiPiazza, Mayara Pineiro and Oksana Maslova, who will be promoted next season. (Pineiro and Maslova were both Corella hires last season.) American Ballet Theatre corps member Sterling Baca will join as a principal, while his girlfriend Nayara Lopes of Dance Theatre of Harlem has been hired as part of the corps. (The pair was featured on our January 2016 "25 to Watch" cover.) American Sara Michelle Murawski will also join as a principal after dancing at the Slovak National Ballet and Dayesi Torriente from Ballet Nacional de Cuba will join as a soloist.

It can't be an easy time for any of the dancers there right now. A colleague forwarded me this blog post from Darius Barnes, a former New York City Ballet dancer who was among 11 corps members laid off during the recession in 2009. He definitely relates to the Pennsylvania Ballet dancers' predicament: He writes about the anger, confusion and embarrassment that comes with this kind of very public regime change, and the difficulty of not knowing where your career goes from here. Dancers have so few years to dance, and contracts are never easy to come by. Losing a dance job isn't just about losing your paycheck—it often means you'll have to move to an entirely new city, and say goodbye to daily contact with friends who feel as close as family.

But what I love about Barnes' post is how he reframes the situation: He reminds the dancers they have been freed from a situation that was no longer a fit for them artistically, a place where they were no longer appreciated. In his case, he went on to dance with Suzanne Farrell and DTH, then was a lead in Broadway's Memphis, which led to several other Broadway roles. There's always a new opportunity waiting for you out there—even if it might not be the one you initially hoped for.

 

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021