Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
1969: THE FOUNDING
Nearly 50 years ago, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre began when a charismatic Yugoslavian choreographer and a forward-thinking arts advocate joined forces around a shared conviction that a professional ballet company belonged in Pittsburgh. In the infancy of the city's dance scene, Founding Artistic Director Nicolas Petrov and Founding Board Chair Loti Falk connected over an outdoor ballet performance featuring Petrov's Pittsburgh Playhouse dancers. Both believed that ballet would enrich the city's cultural community and satisfy a thirst for diverse performing arts opportunities on par with other major metro areas. Despite ballet's novelty in Pittsburgh, the movement resonated with onlookers. It also secured a pledge of support from Falk. According to Petrov, “the development of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre pivoted on that promise.” Together, they went on to found Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1969 in affiliation with Point Park College. As founding artistic director, Petrov brought artistic connections, a rich choreographic background and a corps of young talents from the dance programs he developed at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Point Park College. As founding chair, benefactor and full-time volunteer, Falk gave wings to the company with the irrepressible energy and ambition that continue to define the PBT work ethic. The legacy was born.
In the 1970s, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre proved its staying power. Following its 1969 stage debut at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, PBT sold out its inaugural 1970-71 subscription season, featuring Petrov's The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. In 1971 Loti and Leon Falk purchased PBT's first studio space on the Boulevard of the Allies. In these formative years, the founders flexed their connections in the elite circles of American ballet to bring seminal performers of the era, including Natalia Makarova, Edward Villella and Violette Verdy, to guest star in PBT productions. Luminaries like Leonide Massine and Frederic Franklin came to Pittsburgh to stage ballets, instruct master classes and help shape the fledgling company. By the end of the decade, PBT had cleared fiscal hurdles, become independent of Point Park College and withstood an artistic transition. When Petrov stepped down to focus on the Point Park program, John Gilpin, of London’s Festival Ballet, briefly led the company until Patrick Frantz, a former Paris Opera Ballet dancer, took the helm in 1978. The Company closed the decade with a symbol of the future: the establishment of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School in 1979.
Defining Moments of the 70s
- 1970–71: PBT presents its first subscription season at the Syria Mosque.
- 1977: Nicolas Petrov steps down as artistic director. PBT becomes fully independent of Point Park College.
- 1978: Patrick Franz is named Artistic Director. Budget tops $1 million and subscriber base reaches 4,000.
- 1979: PBT School is established.
As it entered its second decade, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre cemented its place among the nation's leading ballet companies. By the 1981-82 Season, PBT had made its New York City debut and toured to 28 states, Canada and the Virgin Islands. In 1982, PBT entered a new era with the appointment of Patricia Wilde as artistic director – a position she would hold for 15 years. The former New York City Ballet principal invigorated the dancers with her refined technique and the works of modern masters, including her mentor, George Balanchine. In addition to Balanchine masterworks, PBT took on full-length classics like Don Quixote and premiered the first ballet rendition of The Great Gatsby. With an eye toward the future, the company launched PBT School's first Intensive Summer Program and established the Schenley Program for high school students who needed to balance academic and artistic studies. In 1984, Loti and Leon Falk gifted the company with its current Liberty Avenue studios and a new home for both the company and school.
Defining Moments of the 80s
- 1980: PBT School launches the Intensive Summer Program. Subscriber base reaches 6,000.
- 1982: Loti Falk appointed executive director; Patricia Wilde becomes artistic director.
- 1984: PBT moves into its current Liberty Avenue studios in the Strip District.
- 1986: PBT School launches the Schenley Program for high school students. PBT commissions the world premiere of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s acclaimed Tabula Rasa, which has since entered the repertorie of dance companies worldwide
- 1987: Loti Falk retires as executive director. Stephen Richard, founding Managing Director of the Los Angeles Theatre Center, becomes Managing Director and launches a successful multi-million dollar campaign to eliminate an accumulated deficit. PBT begins performing at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts.
- 1989: PBT’s first arts education and engagement programs begin.
The company's repertoire continued to diversify in the 1990s as PBT explored new artistic ground. Throughout her tenure, Patricia Wilde cultivated emerging choreographers and commissioned a total of 32 works. The company also premiered an original new story ballet: the baseball classic The Mighty Casey, choregraphed by Lisa DeRibere. In 1997, Terrence Orr was hired as Artistic Director. A former ABT principal dancer, Orr had visited the Company in the 80s to set Rodeo and other works from the ABT repertory. Orr also brought a vision shaped by some of the nation's leading ballet companies and a strong gift for storytelling. He continued building the repertoire with new full-length story ballets, original works and artistic collaborations.
Repertoire Highlights: Lisa de Ribere's The Mighty Casey; George Balanchine’s Square Dance, Concerto Barrocco, Serenade, and Jewels; Indigo in Motion, Kent Stowell’s Carmina Burana
Defining Moments of the 90s
- 1991: Development Director Steven Libman is promoted to Managing Director; PBT completes $1.5 million stabilization campaign.
- 1993: PBT launches the $18 million Campaign for Permanence to expand endowment funding and improve facilities. PBT studios are renovated with the help of a $1.3M grant from the PA State Legislature.
- 1995: “Ballad of You and Me”,a ballet about the great folk artist Pete Seeger opens.
- 1997: Terrence S. Orr succeeds Patricia Wilde as artistic director. The full length ballet “Dracula” is presented; a co-commission with Houston Ballet and Boston Ballet.
- 1999: DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace Foundation awards PBT a $1million grant.
As PBT moved into the millennium, the company continued to draw inspiration from its hometown while stretching the city’s conception of classical ballet. In 2000, Orr in conjunction with Libman, began a series of commissions for contemporary ballets inspired by American music, including such artists as: Ray Brown, Stanley Turrentine, Lena Horne, Billy Strayhorn, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Paul Simon. In 2002, Orr premiered his Pittsburgh-inspired production of The Nutcracker, engaging artists with a new creative endeavor and audiences with a production set in their city. In addition to modern masters like Twyla Tharp and Paul Taylor, the company commissioned works by rising choreographer Dwight Rhoden and ballets merging mainstream American music with classically based choreography. While PBT continued to celebrate legacy classics like Giselle, it also entered new dramatic territory with Jean-Christophe Maillot’s unconventional Roméo et Juliette and the evocative Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project.
Orr would go on to commission 18 world premiere works for the company. Meanwhile, a successful “Say it with Music Campaign” to restore the PBT Orchestra would jump-start a growing period of financial stability for continued artistic growth.
Repertoire Highlights: Jean-Christophe Maillot’s Roméo et Juliette; Stephen Mills’ Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project; Paul Taylor’s Company B; Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, Known by Heart (Junk Duet) and Octet; Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland
Defining Moments of the 2000s
- 2000: PBT premieres “Indigo in Motion”, an evening of ballet that celebrated Pittsburgh’s Jazz heritage.
- 2002: PBT premieres Terrence S. Orr’s Pittsburgh-inspired The Nutcracker.
- 2004: Endowment reaches $9.4 million. Steven Libman steps down as Managing Director after 14 years in the position.
- 2006: Harris N. Ferris is named executive director. PBT launches the Say it With Music campaign to restore the ballet orchestra.
- 2007: PBT completes the fiscal year with an operating surplus.
- 2008: PBT presents the North American premiere of Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland; company ends second-consecutive fiscal year in the black.
Nearly 50 years later, the founders’ legacy stands strong. PBT has evolved into a critically acclaimed company with international reach. Today, the company ranks among the five largest performing arts organizations in Pittsburgh and is home to 30 full-time dancers, who come from 12 states and six countries to live and perform in Pittsburgh. Sharing the same studio space, PBT School cultivates the next generation of professional dancers, who come to PBT from around the country — and the world — to train with its world-renowned instructors and artists. Together with the PBT Orchestra under Maestro Charles Barker, PBT encompasses a rich family of dancers and musicians. Through more than 50 performances each year at home and on tour, PBT stays true to the vision of its founders: to perpetuate joy and excellence in ballet.
Repertoire Highlights: John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire; Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes, Maelstrom, and Sandpaper Ballet; Jiří Kylián's Petite Mortand Sinfonietta; Jerome Robbins’ The Concert; Jorden Morris’ Peter Pan and Moulin Rouge®–The Ballet; La Bayadère; Le Corsaire; Original works by PBT company dancers
- 2010: PBT School opens first student residency, Byham House, and installs sprung floors in all five studios.
- 2012: PBT performs in Israel’s 45th-annual Karmiel Dance Festival, the company’s first overseas tour in 20 years.
- 2013: PBT becomes first professional company in the U.S. to present a sensory-friendly version of The Nutcracker.
- 2016: PBT successfully completes its 10th consecutive year in the black.
- 2016: PBT opens its new Byham Center for Dance, a 14,000-square-foot studio annex at its Strip District headquarters.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School
PBT launched its first comprehensive arts education program in 1989 with a seed grant from the Henry C. Frick Educational Commission. In its first year the program reached 6000 children. Since that time, PBT has reached more than 65,000 children from over 200 school districts in a four-state region.
PBT School enrolls more than 1,000 students annually across its Children's, Student, Pre-professional and Community divisions. The Pre-professional Division, which cultivates the next generation of professional dancers, includes both part-time and full-time high school programs for students who are balancing academic studies with career-track ballet training. The curriculum includes technique, pointe or men's technique, partnering, jazz, character and Pilates classes. The Graduate Program provides advanced training to high school graduates who are preparing to audition for professional positions. While the Grad students continue with similar technique classes as students in the High School Program, they concentrate more on learning and rehearsing repertoire. Graduates of PBT School can be found in the rosters of professional companies nationwide and in the ranks of PBT's own professional company.
The school presents two student productions each spring: Pre-Professional Showcases at Point Park University's intimate George Rowland White Performance Studio and Spring Performance, which features 200+ dancers of the Student and Pre-professional divisions onstage at the Byham Theater in downtown Pittsburgh. Students also have the opportunity to audition for and perform in PBT's main-stage productions, especially "The Nutcracker."
- Amanda Whites, Dance Theatre of Tennessee
- Kristie Latham, Ballet Met (Trainee)
- Olivia Kelly, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Katie Miller, Sacramento Ballet (Apprentice)
- Molly Wright, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Becca Cross, Rochester City Ballet
- Ava Chatterson, Sacramento Ballet
- Kelly Ford, Sacramento Ballet (Apprentice)
- Jordan Richardson, Nevada Ballet Theater
- Shanna Gayer, University of Pittsburgh
- Meghan Wright, Sacramento Ballet
- Amber Runyan, North Carolina Dance Theater (Trainee)
- Christina Gratton, Boston University
- Caitlin Mayes, University of Texas
- Ted Henderson, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Erik Johnson, Rochester City Ballet
- Yoshiaki Nakano, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Anna Porter, Columbia City Ballet
- Elizabeth Ashbaugh, Louisville Ballet (Apprentice)
- Amanda Cochrane, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (Apprentice)
- Ashley Hamman, Ballet Quad Cities
- Caitlin McElroy, Atlantic City Ballet (Apprentice)
- Benjamin Rabe, Rochester City Ballet
- Amanda Radetzky, Victoria Ballet
- Kelsey Schneider, Rochester City Ballet (Apprentice)
- Casey Taylor, Pacific Northwest Ballet (Professional Division)
- Benjamin Tucker, Richmond Ballet (Apprentice)
- Kirsten Wipperfeld, Richmond Ballet (Trainee)
- Carissa Chandler*, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (retired/injured)
- Steven Bain, Ballet Idaho
- Sonja Davenport, Cincinnati Ballet (Trainee)
- Devon Darrow, Richmond Ballet (Trainee)
- Kelly Jarrell, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (Apprentice)
- Corynn Miller, Rochester City Ballet (Apprentice)
- Joseph Parr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Patrick Yokum, Boston Ballet II
- Jessica Wheeler, Louisville Ballet (Trainee)
- Gauen Alexander, Alabama Ballet
- Alexis Antolic, Louisville Ballet
- Kaleb Baker, Ballet Quad Cities
- Kelsey Bartman, Texture Ballet
- Allison Debona, Ballet West
- Patrick DesRosiers, Ballet Quad Cities
- Danielle Downey, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Sasha Edelman, Ballet Arizona
- Laurie Lou Garside, Richmond Ballet (Apprentice)
- Alana Gergerich, Omaha Theater Ballet
- Shannon Hokanson, Louisville Ballet (Trainee)
- Temple Kemezis, Connecticut Ballet
- Emily Long, Ballet Quad Cities
- Gabrielle Thurlow, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Brittany Waggy, Ballet Quad Cities
- Kelly Walsh, Alabama Ballet
- Ashley Wegman, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Aleksandr York, Omaha Theater Ballet
- Edward Carr, Ballet Austin
- Nicholas Coppula, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Roberto Curti, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (Apprentice)
- Michelle Joy, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Metropolitan Opera
- Kimberly Tasota, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Eva Trapp, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Brienne Wiltse, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
- Eberson, Sharon (2015-10-22). "Loti Falk Gaffney / Co-founder, nurturer of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2019-07-17.
- Kanny, Mark (2015-10-15). "Ballet founder made mark with fortitude, kindness". Trib Total Media. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 2019-07-17.
- Vranish, Jane (2003-10-19). "Dance Preview: Loti Falk Gaffney put PBT on dance map". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2019-07-29.
- Petrov, Nicolas (2003-11-07). "The facts on the PBT". Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2019-07-29.
- "The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's innovative production, Indigo in Motion, attracted new audiences with a blend of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage and classical ballet". Archived from the original on 2017-09-06.
- "Ballet's managing director resigns". PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. 2004-05-12.
- "Principals". Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Archived from the original on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Soloists". Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Archived from the original on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2015.
- "Corps de Ballet". Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Archived from the original on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 4 July 2012.
- "Pre professional division". Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Archived from the original on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
- Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, official website