Off Stage: Exploring Ballet In a New Way

January 15, 2015

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The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has created a much-loved holiday tradition with its multi-million dollar production of The Nutcracker. But sometimes there can be just as much satisfaction to be found in the studio., not necessarily with the professionals, but students.

Beginners.

I was invited to watch such a class with seven very special beginners. There were no overhead lights, just the natural kind, giving the studio a warm, comforting feeling.

The students were reviewing the five ballet positions from their instructors, Kaila Lewis and Jamie Murphy. Also on hand for support was Alyssa Herzog Melby, education and community engagement director at PBT, who was integral in opening up the normally aristocratic world of ballet to those with autism.

It all started with special performances at the Benedum Center using low light and subdued special effects.

Now, with the assistance from the ABOARD’s Autism Connection of PA, PBT has initiated a series of four classes for high school students.

“We push for inclusion at the elementary level,” says outreach and eduction director Lu Randall. “But high school can be more difficult — it’s more competitive.”

There was autism training for the entire ballet school staff and the Nutcracker cast, enhanced by a high interest among PBT board members.

But the class concept may be a whole new thing in the ballet world. Ms. Fulton doesn’t know of a similar program anywhere else.

With this class in place, ballet could eventually become a lifelong movement activity for these students — a real plus.

The students learned warm-up exercises, along with relaxation techniques to help with stress management. There was a brief barre, beginning with plies, tendus and “the hard one,” piques. They jumped. They began to move across the floor.

Then came the fun stuff. The students actually learned slightly simplified, but real dances from the Nutcracker. First, the mice from the Transformation Scene, where they got to sneak around. Then everyone’s favorite, where they became the Pirate, swashbuckles and all.

It was obvious that everyone is enjoying themselves, from the family members sitting along the back wall and applauding enthusiastically to the dancers, whose smiles seem to grow during the class.

One young man even made his parents buy him a pair of ballet slippers. And they were all talking about what they would wear for their informal performance at the end of the sessions.

Cue the lights.

 


On Stage: A Holiday Finish

January 1, 2015
Hannah Carter as Marie. Photos: Rich Sofranko.

Hannah Carter as Marie. Photos: Rich Sofranko.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brought its annual “Nutcracker” run to a close. Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I was also able to see Hannah Carter as Marie, a dancer lovely of lines, along with her significant other in real life, William Moore, ready, willing and able as her Nephew/Nutcracker partner.But Julia Erickson established herself as the star attraction of The Nutcracker, this time as the Sugar Plum Fairy. with Alexander Silva deservedly garnering considerable backstage applause from the company for his Cavalier solo. On to 2015…

Gabrielle Thurlow and Luca Sbrizzi.

Gabrielle Thurlow and Luca Sbrizzi.

Julia Erickson and Alejandro Diaz in the Snow Scene.

Julia Erickson and Alejandro Diaz in the Snow Scene.


On Stage: A Swan Lake Weekend

April 20, 2010

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre flew with four lead casts in “Swan Lake.” Although word of mouth was good for Julia Erickson and Alexandre Silva, I saw the other three casts. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


On Stage: Dancing into the Future

April 8, 2010

As Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s final production, “Swan Lake,” approaches, members of the company are approaching the performances from differing perspectives. Some will take a final bow and others have already received promotions. They share their thoughts with me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


On Stage: Through Martha’s Eyes – Part 2

February 24, 2010

More of photographer Martha Rial in a selection of photos from Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial


On Stage: Through Martha’s Eyes – Part 1

February 22, 2010

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre offered a contemporary (of the ’90’s ilk) view of dance with two iconic dance figures, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp. Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the review.  But here’s a bonus: Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Martha Rial was on hand for the dress rehearsal, resulting in her always-winning view of dance. More tomorrow in Part 2.

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial


Off Stage: Not Just a Classroom

January 8, 2010

Dance studios all have the a sense of sameness, much like McDonald’s or Friday’s. In the case of a studio, you have the barre, the mirrors, a music source (and a piano if you’re lucky) and perhaps a few chairs. But set a photographer loose and, all of a sudden, there is art. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Martha Rial has contributed a number of performance photos to CrossCurrents, but here are a few bonus babies, caught off the cuff, for you to enjoy.

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial

Photo by ©Martha Rial


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