By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
One of the last big area outdoor summer arts events, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s annual Ballet Under the Stars program at Hartwood Acres Park is a signal of the approaching new dance season. It will be a milestone one for PBT which celebrates its 50th.
Ballet Under the Stars, the bring your own chairs and blankets, free outdoor mixed repertory performance, will be performed on Sunday, August 18 and feature highlights from ballets PBT performed last season beginning with excerpts from the story ballet classic, The Sleeping Beauty (1890) danced to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents Ballet Under the Stars 2019, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 18, Hartwood Acres Amphitheater/Middle Road Concert Area, 4000 Middle Rd., Allison Park. Free. www.pbt.org/hartwood. For more information on and tickets for PBT’s 2019-20 season visit www.pbt.org or call (412) 454-9107.
With The Sleeping Beauty, PBT artistic director Terrence Orr will highlight the bulk of the company’s dancers from its newest five corps de ballet members to its principal dancers, who will double up dancing lead character roles from the ballet in some of its tastiest bits. Also, on the program will be two ballets reprised from PBT’s joint program with Dance Theatre of Harlem this past March; Stanton Welch’s sweeping ballet Orange (2001) to music by Antonio Vivaldi, and “Rubies,” the ebullient middle section of George Balanchine’s masterwork Jewels (1967) set to music by Igor Stravinsky.
Also a part of Ballet Under the Stars 2019 will be free pre-show family activities from 5-7 p.m. that include crafts and dance activities for kids, photo opportunities with costumed dancers, a ballerina dress-up station and more. In addition, there will be food trucks on-site, and for $60/adult, $20/Child, a VIP tent with pre-show drinks and dinner with the artists (For VIP tent reservations visit www.pbt.org/hartwood or call (412) 454-9110).
With the new season come company roster changes. Dancers Marisa Grywalski and Corey Bourbonniere were promoted to the rank of soloist and company departures include dancers Alexander Castillo, Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, Emily Simpson and Jake Unger. Also moving on in October after PBT’s production of Giselle, will be 12-year company favorite Luca Sbrizzi. A native of Udine, Italy, Sbrizzi joined PBT in 2007 and was promoted to principal dancer in 2016.
Joining the corps de ballet as apprentices this season are Albuquerque, New Mexico-native Sam DerGregorian, a graduate of Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division; Allison Durand, from Charleston, South Carolina and Erin Casale, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, both who attended PBT’s Graduate Program. Also matriculating from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School is dancer Jack Hawn, originally from Detroit, Michigan.
Hawn got his start in dance at age 4 inspired by the dancing he saw on TV’s Sesame Street and from recordings of the popular Irish music and dance show Riverdance.
Says Hawn on making ballet his career: “There is so much to be desired from ballet. Dancers have the privilege of participating in a great heritage with a rich history. We get to dance to beautiful music, have transitory moments onstage, and be an endless student of a beautiful and formidable art form.”
And when the 21-year-old is not dancing, one of his other passions is as a composer. “I write a lot for solo piano,” says Hawn. “It’s what I know best. I also have fun dabbling in anything from orchestral to singer-songwriter music.”
Samples of Hawn’s compositions can be found on SoundCloud at https://soundcloud.com/jackbhawn.
Look for the 6’4” Hawn at Ballet Under the Stars as the Cavalier to Grywalski’s “Fairy of Grace” in The Sleeping Beauty. Rounding out the new company members (a sixth apprentice is yet to be announced) making their company debut Sunday will be Whidbey Island, Washington-native Grace Rookstool. The 18-year-old, who, like DerGregorian, trained at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet School, says of her recent move to Pittsburgh, “The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make so far has been living on my own. I come from a large family, so this is a big change for me.”
Rookstool, whose early training was predominately in the Balanchine movement style, will draw on that experience in dancing Balanchine’s “Rubies”. Says Rookstool, “I am very excited to have the opportunity to dance in such an iconic ballet so soon in my career.”
PBT’s 50th Anniversary Season will also mark Orr’s final one as director. He announced his retirement this June after more than two decades as PBT’s leader following the conclusion of this anniversary season. A succession plan and the formation of search committee for Orr’s replacement is underway.