Terrence S. Orr with dancers of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Aimee DiAndrea, courtesy PBT.
Change is in the air in Steel City: On Friday Terrence S. Orr announced that, after 22-years as artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, he will retire in June 2020 following the conclusion of PBT's 50th anniversary season.
Kaleena Miller Dance. Photo by Dan Norman, Courtesy Cowles Center
In what seems to be a growing trend, regional companies are coming together to share stages and expand their audiences. These team-ups often go beyond split bills, with companies swapping choreographers and performing at least one joint work. While the logistics of co-presentations can be complicated—with more dancers to schedule, budgets to balance and creative visions to blend—the benefits can range from bigger box-office returns to lasting relationships for the artists.
The Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani and Alberto Velazquez in Anna Karenina. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet
Unexpected collaborations, celebrations of culture, literary classics that take a turn for the tragic—it might be freezing outside, but the new season is just heating up. Here are six shows we'd happily brave the winter weather for this month.
Miami City Ballet in Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite. Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy MCB
From the over-the-top antics of Fancy Free to the stylized realism of West Side Story, the discomfiting world of The Cage to the poignant humanity of Dances at a Gathering, the work of Jerome Robbins redefined what American dance could be. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth, ballet companies across the country are performing his iconic works throughout the year. Here are a few of our favorites, but keep your eyes peeled for more Robbins tributes in 2018.
The principal dancer moonlights as a nutrition entrepreneur.
Erickson fuels performances by snacking all day. Here, in Giselle. Photo by Rich Sofranko, courtesy PBT.
With five feet eight inches of svelte muscle, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson is celebrated for being quick on her feet and light in her carriage. Outside of Pennsylvania, though, she may be most well-known as the dancer who created Barre–A Real Food Bar with her husband, Aaron Ingley. The pair began selling the vegan whole-food energy bar in 2010 because Erickson got so many requests from colleagues who wanted to buy her homemade snacks. Today, the bars are carried by approximately 400 retailers across the country, including natural food outlets, dance studios and stores.
Erickson chose every ingredient based on snacks she eats in the studio—things like dates, nuts and rolled oats. “It has the perfect combination for me of slow- and fast-burning carbohydrates, protein, fiber and natural electrolyte replacement," she says. “You're not going to flame out, but it's not going to make you feel overly full." Erickson often snacks on half a Barre before a rehearsal to fuel her dancing and half immediately after to replace nutrients for her muscles.
Just as she is meticulous about what she puts in her body, Erickson also pays attention to how she challenges it. She practices yoga a few times a week to balance out the stress that dance places on her muscles and joints. “I like Bikram because it's not super-intense on the upper body," she says. “Mostly you are using your own body strength with calisthenics." She also attends the less-familiar yin yoga, which focuses on stretching in one position, such as the half pigeon, for as much as five minutes at a time. “It really goes beyond the muscle to the connective tissue," she says, “and I have found that it has been so helpful for me to even out the imbalances and asymmetries in my body."
Throughout her day, Erickson works out knots with a small, hard ball for her feet and a large, softer ball on her quads and back. “Sometimes soft is surprisingly more effective than mashing on the muscle with something hard," she says. Barre is currently seeking to expand its product line to include similar balls, as well as an all-natural dietary supplement and anti-inflammatory cream. The dancer-friendly items will soon be for sale at realfoodbarre.com.
PBT presents a Nutcracker geared to children with autism disorders.
“This is a performance where families can come as they are and be who they are,” says Alyssa Herzog Melby, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s education director, about the company’s first autism-friendly performance of The Nutcracker, which she championed. The troupe, directed by Terrence Orr, follows the lead of the Theatre Development Fund’s Autism Theatre Initiative, which facilitates performances of Broadway productions for sensory-sensitive audiences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism spectrum disorders affect 1 in 88 children nationally.
Christine Schwaner in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Nutcracker. Photo by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT
Working with several local autism support organizations, PBT assembled a 10-member panel that scrutinized a DVD of the company’s The Nutcracker. Participants suggested removing the flares from Drosselmeyer’s magic tricks and reducing the volume of the recorded Tchaikovsky score for the ballet’s two-hour duration. Orr’s choreography remains unchanged, but lighting adjustments may be necessary.
PBT, which has worked closely with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust throughout the process, assembled a pictorial pre-visit guide as an introduction to the theatergoing experience, and will offer a real-time opportunity to explore the Benedum Center, where the ballet will be performed. Designated quiet and activity stations will be made available, along with more than 50 education and health care volunteers. Ushering staff, who were trained for an autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King, staged in September at the Benedum, are working the house. A clinical advisor prepared the troupe’s 29 artists for potential distractions during the December 27 matinee, which will be performed with dim house lighting.
Ensemble member Stephen Hadala, a veteran Drosselmeyer, is excited to reach an audience new to The Nutcracker. “We, as an organization, can set the standard for ballet companies in other cities. This experience is something I will treasure forever.”