Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ensures dance for all with sensory-friendly Nutcracker | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ensures dance for all with sensory-friendly Nutcracker

click to enlarge A group of ballet performers in vivid red costumes jump and spin on stage.
Photo: Rosalie O’Connor
The Nutcracker by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Recently, arts organizations across the country have made efforts to be more inclusive  and those in Pittsburgh are no exception. In addition to increasing their ADA compliance or offering closed captioning devices for deaf patrons, another way they're accomplishing this is through sensory-friendly performances for those with autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing disorders, or other individualized needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will make sure its own productions are welcoming with special renditions of The Nutcracker, opening today at the Benedum Center.

The dance company announced two sensory-friendly performances of its annual holiday production that combines spectacular ballet with the classic story of a young girl transported to a magical world by a handsome Nutcracker prince. Taking place Fri., Dec. 16, and Tue., Dec. 27, the shows will, according to a press release, provide a "judgment-free zone where performers, theater staff and patrons are accepting of additional sound and movement in the audience and lobby."

The performances will also be priced at $20-55, more affordable rates compared to typical ticket prices.

“We are so pleased to be able to offer two sensory-friendly and three audio-described matinees this year,” said PBT acting executive director Kathryn Gigler. “These sensory-friendly events are a step toward making the excitement and beauty of a ballet performance barrier-free, accessible, and welcoming to everyone in Pittsburgh communities.”

The performances will include certain accommodations, including house lights set to 20% brightness, lowered sound levels, the permitted use of "iPads and other electronics for therapeutic purposes," and the availability of fidget objects and ear plugs. Those who need breaks from all the noise and movement can visit Benedum's main lobby and promenade levels before the performances and during intermission. There, guests will find calming activities sponsored by PBT and partner organizations such as the Carnegie Science Center, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

There will also be an Audio Description live narration of the ballet for guests with "blindness or low vision," with headsets being made available at the Benedum's guest services area.

The Nutcracker will continue through December, with a local spin on the classic ballet. It opens on a Christmas Eve party in early 20th-century Shadyside, and continues with five scenes and more than 100 ballet artists from PBT's professional company and school. And that's not all: a Christmas tree that "grows to 15 times its size," fake falling snow, and over 30 sleight-of-hand tricks created by a professional magician will also add to the festivities.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents The Nutcracker. Fri., Dec. 9-Wed., Dec. 28. Benedum Center. Seventh St. and Penn Ave., Downtown. $29-135. pbt.culturaldistrict.org