On Stage: For Real at PBT

Photo: Aimee Waeltz

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre returned from its Israel tour in good shape at Hartwood Acres. Read the Hartwood article by clicking on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Also on hand were a trio of apprentices…

One is a Florida blond, another from ballet-scarce Rhode Island and the third pretty much a home-grown talent. These are Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s three new faces who will replace retired principal dancer Erin Halloran and corps members Aygul Abougalieva, Ted Henderson and Ashley Wegmann for the upcoming 2012-13 season.

Casey Taylor could be considered a Pittsburgher. Born in New Jersey, her parents moved here when she was one-year old, so her training has deep roots here. She left to study at Pacific Northwest Ballet for two years and then worked at Dresden’s Semperoper in Germany and at Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker.

The experience paid off when Erin retired mid-season this past year due to a hip injury. Casey was hired as an apprentice and played the Nurse in PBT’s production of John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

She brought back with her a healthy interest in a lot of things, like traveling (Prague in the Czech Republic, among others), photography (to express herself artistically in a different way) and cooking (like discovering the versatility of eggs).

Artistry does come in many forms…

Her apprenticeship was solidified at the end of the season, perhaps because she considers herself a “quick learner. I like to work together, to learn and figure things out.” And she wouldn’t mind “stepping in on a moment’s notice.”

It turns out that Corey Bourbonniere has already done that. When corps member Makoto Ono was injured at a dress rehearsal of The Three Musketeers, Corey stepped in the day of the performance and learned the role.

He had virtually no previous background to prepare him for that moment. Born in North Providence, Rhode Island, also known as Woonsocket, good ballet was hard to find. But Corey did study at the State Ballet of Rhode Island and Heritage Ballet before he auditioned for PBT’s high school program in 2009. The staff requested that he stay for his senior year, then two years of grad school before he was accepted into the company.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” Corey says. “It changed my technique; I grew stronger. They really bring the best dancer out of you.”

JoAnna Schmidt came from Eustis, Florida, centrally located between Daytona Beach and Tampa. And yes, she studied at the Central Florida Ballet, home of the World Ballet Competition, with which PBT has established a connection.

JoAnna attended a job fair at the competition with the idea of attending a university dance program when PBT ballet mistress Marianna Tcherkassky approached her and offered her a spot in the grad program.

“It seemed like a great and enlightening opportunity,” she recalls. “I think she could tell I just wanted to keep on dancing — I had a love for dance.”

While Corey appreciates Pittsburgh more now that she is back (“I see things much better”), JoAnna, also an accomplished pianist, discovered Pittsburgh to be “very diverse. I like that it rains a lot (I guess I got tired of the sun). It almost feels like a big neighborhood rather than a city.” Corey calls it “a big melting pot of the arts” and enjoys seeing different performances.

But now they will all meet on common ground as apprentices, often observing for much of rehearsal in this first year. Still, they note that it’s “motivating” to watch the company members, how they are focused during rehearsal, but fun-loving outside.

But they will have to continue to grow as they observe. “Some dancers get stuck when they first join the company,” says Corey. “It’s really hard to improve.” Joanna adds, “You have to push yourself, become your own teacher.”

With the staff members no longer looking over their shoulder, they seem ready for the challenge…and the opportunity.


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