Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

DDP Founder & President Liza Yntema was absolutely delighted to be invited recently by Susan Jaffe to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT), to meet Aszure Barton, whose new work for the company will be performed in March. This year, at both PBT and Hubbard Street Dance
Chicago, Ms.Yntema is supporting Ms. Barton’s work. This was DDP’s 20th Listening Tour visit, an initiative we launched in 2015 to learn on the ground about the practices, culture, and work of dance companies across the United States.

By speaking with everyone from maintenance staff, ballet moms (and dads) and bunheads of all ages to staff, teachers, dancers, and visitors, DDP has gained a broad, unique understanding of the industry, the issues facing companies, large and small, regional differences, and now, with the pandemic, the extraordinary “dance” that staff, both Artistic & Executive, must perform to keep everyone safe, while adjusting to a new normal as much as is possible in these uncertain times. Below is Liza’s account of her time in Pittsburgh.

I would like to first extend a special thank you to Susan Jaffe and Denise Mosley for coordinating my visit. Susan created a warm, friendly, and extremely welcoming culture in the midst of Nutcracker season. She is quite busy – currently working on her new Swan Lake, debuting this Spring, while also preparing to premiere a new Nutcracker next year.

As soon as I arrived, I was warmly greeted by Alanna Rygelksi, Ray Lantsky and Bob Vickrey. Aviana Adams, who took photos featured in this piece, was kind enough to direct me around the beautiful new headquarters with light streaming in the upstairs studios.

I was lucky enough to be able to watch the Company, first in rehearsals with Aszure Barton as choreographer and Tobin Del Cuore as repetiteur. But it shows the range of the Pittsburgh Ballet dancers that they almost immediately pivoted to Nutcracker rehearsals. 

As most people know, I am not a huge Nutcracker fan, but watching former Artistic Director Terrence Orr, and his wife Marianna Tcherkassky rehearse the company with principals, soloists, company members, and trainees while the “littles” watched through the windows was lovely, and gave me a sense of the company as family.

Thanks to the following extremely busy dancers, whom I was delighted to meet:

  • Jessica McCann, Soloist
  • Yoshiaki Nakano, Principal
  • Jonathan Breight, Corps de Ballet
  • Sam DerGregorian, Corps de Ballet – thanks so much for following DDP on social media. We need all the male allies possible.

Perhaps the best part of my visit was getting lucky enough to meet two ballet babies, Nova & Teddy. Thanks to their moms Danielle and Hannah Carter, as well!

I was also privileged to have met many of the school faculty, as well, including Marjorie Grundvig, who has been Head of School since 2005, Eun Young Ahn, Student Division Principal (Universal Ballet, Kirov training, American Ballet Theatre), and Janet Popeleski, School Principal.

It’s like walking into Aladdin’s cave when you get to walk into the costume department at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. Janet Groom Campbell, Costumier, is retiring after 46 years and has absolutely hysterical stories of almost-disasters over the years, including tutus slicing into male dancers and fabric balls falling off all over the stage.

Her work is absolutely exquisite, as you can see from these videos. I finally got a chance to be a princess 😉

and a Principal male role.

I certainly wasn’t going to be fitting into the Sleeping Beauty tutus. 

Thanks also to First Hand Kristin McLain and the other costume department members.

The 2021-2022 season looks to be extraordinary with a season dominated by new female voices like Staycee Pearl and works by well-known choreographers, such as Helen Pickett, Jennifer Archibald, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Gemma Bond, and of course, Susan Jaffe’s new Swan Lake coming in May. For more information about the season or to purchase tickets, visit pbt.org.