Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre fans can still remember Kwang Suk Choi’s great work ethic and meticulous attention to detail during his career in ballets like “Don Quixote” (Basilio) and the title role in “Peter Pan.”
But despite his ability to grab the air, Kwang has always had two feet on the ground, given his roots in the North Hills with wife Sae-Young Kang and children Grace, 14, and Daniel, 10. With Sae-Young expressing a desire to teach, he founded Pittsburgh Ballet House (a name both so Asian and heartwarming – don’t you love it?).
The most recent performance (hard to believe it was only PBH’s sixth anniversary at North Hills Junior High School) had those same qualities in the students’ training. Judging by the results, this school has already taken a place in the upper echelon of serious ballet academies in the Pittsburgh area.
Kwang and his wife have also decided to enter the competitive arena, specifically the Youth America Grand Prix, where Grace placed among the top 12 dancers in her age bracket and the others, Christianne Sadaka and Nicole Rizzitano, with good results as well. The dancers have also been accepted to various summer programs, including American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Chautauqua and Cincinnati Ballet.
Kwang has obviously chosen to follow the ABT/PBT connection, with an emphasis on traditional classical training. That has translated into a superior student technique. I would wager that no other independent school could have offered a quartet of variations — “Coppelia,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Paquita” and “Giselle” — all performed with surprisingly strong pointe work (and the best that I have seen in a while), along with an accompanying ease of style.
It was similar to a music school that has advanced students who can perform a concerto from the classical repertoire — and do it well. Let’s face it — it’s great to watch contemporary choreography where the dancers can pique onto the tips of their toes and move well. The classics require extra strength in the foot and ankle, accurate placement and a large dose of courage. No small mistake goes unnoticed.
PBH students also study tap, jazz and hip hop — loved how Kwang listed the class day, time, routine title and (!) precise length of the routine. He also ventured into a Mozart ballet (speaking of concerti), glued together by a tenacious connection to classroom technique. Obviously pirouettes and fouettes got their due diligence.
The main draw was an adaptation of “Cinderella,” set to the Prokofiev score. This was Kwang’s first full year of retirement and, although he played the character role of Cinderella’s father and pulled the coach across the stage, it was obvious that he had devoted himself to the students.
PBH fielded two casts. Saturday night’s included Arielle Lawton (Young Cinderella), Nicole Rizzitano (Cinderella), Shadoe Brandt (Prince) and a pair of very game stepsisters, Carley Rice and Maggie Wiest. There were fairies and an army of little fairies, violinists and young violinists — you get the idea — plus the prince’s journey to Arabia and Spain, just to give some of the older dancers a chance to explore more exotic moves.
The ballet was, on the whole, well-staged, with costuming and cloth drops that gave it a professional feel. This is a young studio that produces ballet with a meaningful intent, but doesn’t lose that sense of joy and passion.