Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Sarah Ricard Orza keeps a book to hand for whenever she has a moment to read.

Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB

The Well-Read Dancer: PNB Principal Sarah Ricard Orza's Faves

Between being a Pacific Northwest Ballet principal, a doula and a mom, you'd think Sarah Ricard Orza wouldn't have spare time to pick up a book. "It's always something I'm saying I need to make more time for!" she says. "Growing up, we didn't have a television, so reading was big in our house. Nowadays, I keep whatever book I'm reading in my purse, so when I have a few minutes to spare I can read!" Orza shared what book she's currently devouring, as well as a childhood fave that now lives on her daughter's bookshelf.


What are you currently reading?

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, the author behind the HBO series "Big Little Lies." It's on loan to me from PNB principal Leta Biasucci. It's just the right combination of good, solid writing and scandalous content!

What is your go-to read for inspiration?

I don't really have a "go-to." I read because it allows you to engage in such a different way than television or films. You get to visualize so much of the story on your own terms. A good book stays with me, becomes part of me. There are so many great literary characters that inspire me. It is the characters in the books I read that often haunt me.

What book have you reread the most?

I have read The Great Gatsby more than any other book—probably five or six times. I just love its clarity of prose.

What book has influenced you most as a dancer?

I was gifted the book A Very Young Dancer when I was probably 6 or 7. It follows a young School of American Ballet student who is picked to play the role of Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker. I devoured that book. Analyzed each and every picture—from the teenage dancer standing en pointe while talking on a pay phone at Lincoln Center to Patricia McBride's hair and makeup. I would mimic how the dancers held their hands. Everything was so incredibly beautiful and magical to me. I just knew I wanted to go to SAB. Incredibly, I got to. What a dream it was to have that childhood vision come true. My current director, Peter Boal, is even in the book! It is now on my daughter Lola's bookshelf.

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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