By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Terrence S. Orr announced last week his retirement as the artistic director effective June 2020, following the conclusion of the company’s 50th Anniversary Season.
Orr signed on at PBT in 1996 but officially took over as director in 1997 succeeding former New York City ballet star Patricia Wilde. Originally from Concord, California, he trained at the San Francisco Ballet School before joining the professional company and becoming a principal dancer at age 17. He then rose to that rank as a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, where he later spent 19 years as a ballet master before coming to Pittsburgh.
During his 22-year tenure at PBT, it has experienced growth in the organization’s budget, ticket sales, school enrollment and campus, including the addition of a 14,000 sq. ft. annex building with new studios and a wellness center.
With a list of accomplishments too numerous to mention, Orr’s impact on PBT is perhaps best felt by Pittsburgh dance audiences in the important additions to the scope and quality of the company’s repertory that ranks among the country’s finest. His more than 20 new commissions for PBT included masterworks by major choreographers, company debuts of important story ballets and works by emerging choreographers, including those within the company. A succession plan and formation of a search committee is underway by PBT’s Board for Orr’s replacement.
I talked with Orr about his time at PBT and what’s next for him and wife and PBT ballet mistress, Marianna Tcherkassky:
Why retire now?
I had been thinking about how and when to exit for a little while. I am 76 now and thought it was a good time to go off and do some other things. It’s also great to have it happen as part of the company’s 50th anniversary season so there is not so much light shining on me.
Was it a difficult decision?
Yes and no. I have been involved in dance my whole life and still will be. I didn’t want to go out cold turkey. They [PBT] are going to sign me to a 5-year contract doing various things. So it’s nice to be able to step down and know I will be able to do something else.
What are the moments that made you the happiest at PBT?
There have been so many highs that happen almost on a daily basis. You meet somebody that you have influenced and made their life better…that brings me joy. I think that is what this business does.
Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren’t able to?
Of course, but I think we accomplished a lot especially adding to the repertoire with the likes of La Bayadère, Street Car Named Desire and a Nutcracker dedicated to the city. There are also so many programs I am really proud of.
One accomplishment that stands out to me in moving PBT forward was your sense of fiscal responsibility. To what do you owe that?
That probably comes from my upbringing and my dad. He didn’t overspend around the house and thought about the future. I just automatically think that way. I have always tried to figure out how to push the bar so we could do some spectacular things. We certainly had some financial problems here and there, but we made some changes to be careful about that. Our art form is very important in Pittsburgh, people believe in it, and I wanted to be a steward to ensure it continues.
What will you miss most?
The people I have worked with and the relationships I have built over the years. I have always kept up with my really good friends from past organizations and I will do the same here.
Even the daily routine?
That is probably the harder thing in a way. I wake up and I want to go to the studio. I love what I do and am very proud and honored to be a part of this art form and to have hopefully made the progress of ballet more important to society.
If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?
I really hope they have the kind of reputation that they can call upon successful people in our art form to come here to work, whether a choreographer, stager, dancer, designer or musician. And that they understand what good taste is.
Do you any have hobbies you will now have more time to pursue?
Marianna and I took our car [1962 Super 90 Twin Grill Porsche Roadster] to Ohio last week and showed it in a competition in Willoughby and won best-of-show and then went to an invitation-only rare car show in Cincinnati and ended up winning the people’s choice award. I will also do some more stone sculpting and painting again.
Do you have a subject matter you favor?
Aquatic. I have made an octopus and stingray that I like.
Will you and Marianna remain in Pittsburgh?
We may travel a little bit but we are going to remain here.