When Susan Jaffe took up her new position as artistic director at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, it was July 1, 2020 – less than four months after the coronavirus pandemic. As with most of the performing arts in the country, PBT’s final shows from the previous season were postponed and the group were weeks away from canceling their announced fall shows.
But the venerable company kept going, switching to filmed programs and outdoor appearances. And this week the PBT opens its first full season of attendance at the Benedum Center under its new artistic direction. The program includes a world premiere of rising dance world star Jennifer Archibald; a work by prominent choreographer Helen Pickett; and two classics: “Diamonds” (1967) by George Balanchine and “Grand Pas Classique” (1949) by Victor Gsovsky.
Days before opening night, Jaffe said she was inspired by the return to a full rehearsal schedule for the entire troupe at the Strip District headquarters this fall. “There’s just so much energy going on,” she said. “We’re all very excited. We can’t wait to perform again. “
The program begins with “Petal” (2008), which Pickett once said was made to evoke “the vitality of spring”; the internationally known Pickett himself has taken over the work on the company, which will perform to the music of Philip Glass and Thomas Montgomery Newman.
In contrast to this more contemporary work, “Grand Pas Classique” is a classically styled piece by the renowned Russian choreographer, says Jaffe. It contains a score by Daniel-Francois Auber, played live by the PBT orchestra.
The program with “Through the Window”, which Archibald created for the PBT last summer, is in keeping with the times. Archibald is the founder and artistic director of Arch Dance Company in New York City, resident choreographer for the Cincinnati Ballet, and her work has been performed by ensembles across the country. She said the new work for 10 dancers, set to songs by Swedish composer Uno Helmersson and Danish composer Frans Bak, was inspired by the silent reflection that sometimes accompanied the forced downtime of the pandemic.
“The idea of ’Through the Window’ is all about honoring the quieter times and perspectives of our deeper selves,” Archibald said.
She spoke by phone from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she worked with the Tulsa Ballet to direct Breakin ‘Bricks, their full-length multimedia work reminiscent of the infamous Tulsa Massacre of 1921 that premieres next week .
Archibald’s style blends ballet with contemporary, modern and hip-hop. She said approaches like hers are continuing to find their way into ballet companies known for traditional story ballets such as “Swan Lake” and “Giselle”.
“I think the audience is interested in seeing what else the dancers can do,” she said. “I think we have a lot of ballet dancers in the industry who are much more versatile than they used to be. And when you’re doing contemporary work, it’s exciting and it makes you push your limits. “
The season premiere of the PBT ends with the legendary Balanchines “Diamonds”, a third of his three-act ballet “Jewels”. For Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 in D major, Op. 29, it is styled as traditionally as 20NS-Century ballet, as it is the classicism of the late 19th century.NS– Century Imperial Russia.
The program includes three performances in the Benedum, Fri., 22.10. until Sun., October 24th More information can be found here.
Like most of the city’s major venues, the Benedum requires guests to show vaccination cards and mask themselves indoors.