Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brings dance back to Benedum Center | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brings dance back to Benedum Center

click to enlarge Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brings dance back to Benedum Center (2)
Photo by Duane Rieder
Jessica McCann and Yoshiaki Nakano in Helen Pickett's "Petal," part of PBT's 2021-2022 Season Premiere
Local ballet fans have had to mostly go without live, in-person performances for well over a year, as COVID-19 left Pittsburgh companies grappling with how to bring their art to the public. The wait will soon end when the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre leaps back on to the Benedum Center stage later this month.

PBT announced that, from Fri., Oct. 22-Sun., Oct. 24, it will present its 2021-2022 Season Premiere with a mixed repertory program that spotlights an “exciting range of classical and contemporary techniques.” This includes a world premiere by Jennifer Archibald, a PBT premiere by Helen Pickett, and classical works by Russian dance legends George Balanchine and Victor Gsovsky, according to a press release.

This will also kick off the first complete theater season programmed by PBT artistic director Susan Jaffe, who joined the company in July 2020, during the midst of the pandemic.

Jaffe says the premiere “really sets the tone" for the PBT season,” as it focuses on women artistic directors, who are often overlooked in the industry.

“Women artistic directors are still uncommon in the ballet world, so in addition to my love for the classics, it’s important to me to celebrate the talented women, like Helen Pickett and Jennifer Archibald, who are pushing the boundaries of this art form,” says Jaffe. “More than half of the choreographers we are presenting this season are women, and all of them bring an incredible depth of creativity to their work.”

The increased focus on women in leadership roles in the ballet industry resonates with Jaffe, who is touted as only the second woman director to take over at PBT since the company was founded in 1969.

While PBT was able to go in-person through programs likes its outdoor Open Air Series this summer, audiences, as well as company dancers, have missed shows at the grand, historic Benedum.

“The excitement of returning to the theater is overwhelming! I really love interacting with the audience when I perform, so I’ve missed having them there so much,” says PBT soloist Tommie Kesten. “I think that when this pandemic ends and the dust settles, I will leap a little higher, smile a little brighter, and appreciate the applause of a live audience a lot more!”

“Through the Window” by Archibald is described as weaving “elements of ballet, modern, and hip-hop technique into a dynamic work for 10 dancers set to songs, including Uno Helmersson’s ‘The Silent Lake’ and Frans Bak’s ‘Singing the Truth.’”

“The work is physical and exciting. It has a lot of different emotional arcs in it,” says Archibald, who is the founder and artistic director of the New York City-based Arch Dance Company, and the resident choreographer for the Cincinnati Ballet.

The program will also feature Pickett’s “Petal,” a spring-inspired ballet set to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Montgomery Newman, Balanchine’s “Diamonds” (part of his 1967 three-act ballet Jewels), and Gsovsky’s “Grand Pas Classique.”

PBT announced that the production of "Petal," as well as the premiere program overall, was supported by a $25,000 grant from the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Fund for Innovation in Dance. Pickett had previously worked with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, including on the 2010 work Trace

A press release states that, after 25 years, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet shut down in March 2021 due to “the challenges of COVID-19.” The company then unveiled the Fund for Innovation in Dance to “invest in the future of the art form and help reinvigorate ballet companies across the country.”

“It gives us great pleasure to know that Helen Pickett’s stunning ballet, ‘Petal,’ will continue to inspire dancers and audience members through its new life with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre,” says Jean-Philippe Malaty, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet executive director.

Future performances will include the holiday favorite The Nutcracker, the fantastical Alice in Wonderland, and Swan Lake, all taking place at the Benedum Center. The company will also present Here + Now in March 2022 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center.
Season Premiere with the PBT Orchestra. Fri., Oct. 22-Sun., Oct. 24. Benedum Center. 237 Seventh St., Downtown. Tickets start at $29. pbt.culturaldistrict.org