I wrote a A&E editorial for Forty Eight Magazine on the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s Pointe in Time Ball, as well as the future of their company in reaching the millennial audience.
“Pittsburgh Ballet Promises Innovation in ’15-’16 Season”
By: Danielle Levsky
Ballet plus techno. Ballet plus avant-garde. Ballet plus Dirty Dancing. The Point in Time Ball said, “Why not?” Ballerinas posed like moving statues on a platform. The entire room was coated in gradients of cool colors and highlighted by starry lights on the ceiling. Dance movie scenes through the years were projected on the walls.
The aesthetic of the Pointe in Time Ball signaled a change in the air and a change in the season – the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Ballet Theater season, that is.
Held on Saturday, November 7th in the Westin Hotel’s Grand Ballroom, the ball made me feel like a 21st-century princess, surrounded by modern and elegant evening dresses and tuxedos.
According to Pittsburgh Ballet Theater Executive Director Harris Ferris and Artistic Director Terrence Orr, the modern atmosphere of the ball was inspired William Forsythe’s In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, which was performed as part of a mixed repertoire in October.
“Forsythe is really awesome. He’s very innovative and progressed his work since 1989,” Principal Dancer Julia Erickson said, who performed in the production. “He incorporates improvisation into his work, which is very compelling for the dancer.”
Guests entered the ballroom for performances by the ballet company, a three-course dinner, and a live auction. The event raised approximately $490,000 to support PBT.
In a speech given at the event, Pointe in Time Ball board chair Craig Tillotson spoke about the positive impact of performing arts, both in community and economy. He referenced a study done by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in which they estimate in 2011 that $504 billion of the U.S. Gross Domestic Production, totaling 3.2 percent for the year, was attributable to arts and culture.
The performances by the ballet company foreshadowed the upcoming season, which, similar to the ball itself, will surprise and attract audiences of all ages. The dancers performed under a white spotlight and showcased snippets of full performances: Western Symphony by George Balanchine, Eternal Idol by Michael Smuin and music by Frederic Chopin, Sinfonietta by Jiři Kylίan, Le Corsaire by Marius Petipa and lastly, the inspiration of the ball, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe.
In December, the company will perform the classic Nutcracker, but to change things up, the setting of the performance will be in Pittsburgh, in the Frick Mansion. The snow scene will be set on Mt. Washington with the three rivers in the background.
Later will be Peter Pan in February; a mixed repertoire of Man in Black (music by Johnny Cash), Jardin Aux Lilas and Eternal Idol in March, and Le Corsaire in April.
Pittsburgh’s changing entertainment landscape has given Orr the freedom to continue exploring new motifs and directions in a ballet performance. He wants people to recognize that “it’s not just pink tutus and toe shoes.”
Erickson, who has been a principal dancer at PBT since 2001, has watched the company drive the repertoire toward innovative and exemplary ballets in recent years. For coming seasons, she hopes to continue exploring the art form in its potential with the movement of the human body and its integration into music.
“Ballet is a medium, like painting, for instance,” Erickson said. “You can use different kinds of paints to create different works of art. Ballet is similar in that there is diverse vocabulary and new techniques can be incorporate into the repertoire.”
The development of culture and arts venues in Downtown Pittsburgh, like the Benedum Center and Heinz Hall, has brought people back to the city, “sparking imagination and creativity.”
“A bright fella by the name of Einstein once said ‘logic can take you from point A to point B, but imagination can take you everywhere.’” Board chair Tillotson said during the reception’s opening remarks.
Imagination is what PBT hopes to evoke in continuing to expand their reach in Pittsburgh. In bringing ballet to the millennial generation, for instance, PBT is using “snippet” performance events, social media platforms and meet-n-greet cocktail parties.
“The arts have always needed to inspire and educate each new generation of audiences,” Ferris said. “For someone who has not yet been exposed to either the classics, like Swan Lake, or contemporary ballet, such as William Forsythe’s In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, we believe that once they witness powerful ballet performances they are going to respond. The art form will grab them. It can strike a chord within them and it often does.”
To reach out to millennial patrons, PBT brought together young professional groups and small committees to work together. They were able to organize cocktail parties and gatherings for 20 somethings. 75 people turned up for the first event, all through postings on social media. Millennials have a unique opportunity to experience a classical art form while engaging with the artists involved. Because building a network is important to so many young professionals, connecting with creative people expands their circle and sphere of influence.
Principal dancers attend these cocktail parties and gatherings to converse, connect and hear from their audience.
“Ballet has an advantage in attracting young audiences,” Ferris said. “All of our dancers are millennials, so young audiences of that generation can relate to them right off the bat. We’re tapping into the social networks of dancers themselves, increasing their visibility at events, parties and private events. We’re involving the artists themselves in the conversation with their audiences.”
Erickson has attended three cocktail parties thus far, as well as performed short previews of performances for small groups. The short performances offer an opportunity to see the dancers up close and personal while they are still honing the craft of the dance.
“They can see the blood and tears,” Erickson said. “When you’re in the studio, you get to see the athletic endeavor, the working process, the artistic process, the corrections. It also makes the art form easily digestible.”
All these events put the dancers and audience members on the same level, literally and figuratively.
“We’re all just talking to one another,” Erickson said. “They can talk to us and realize we’re normal people. We can ask about their lives, their experiences, and feelings when they watch ballet.”
Erikson is confident that the city’s growth and innovation allows for ballet to expand into different formats, venues and collaborations with different mediums of art, music and media. As long as traditions are revered and excellence is maintained, ballet is poised to create unique entertainment opportunities.
“Even though millennials are consuming entertainment and media at a mile a minute, live theater can’t be replaced,” Erickson said. “Humans dancing is so sensual and moving to, frankly, everyone.”
“Pointe in Time Ball: A Photo Recap”
November 7th, 2015 – Pittsburgh, PA
by Danielle Levsk
Before stepping upon the escalator to the Westin Hotel’s Grand Ballroom and Bar, ballerinas greeted guests in traditional Swan Lake garb. Two floors up, the scene changed entirely. Unexpected sounds of techno/club music and sights of avant-garde decor overwhelmed my senses. Ballerinas in contemporary costume posed like moving statues atop a platform, preparing guests for the ball to come. The entire room was coated in gradients of cool colors and highlighted by starry lights on the ceiling. Dance movie scenes through the years were projected on the walls. An open bar served wine, beer and cocktails while amuse-bouche and hors-d’oeuvres were offered to guests mingling outside the ballroom. Guests were dressed in beautiful gowns, cocktail dresses, and sleek tuxedos. Some experimented with their fashion and took a modern approach, paying homage to the theme of the ball which was inspired by William Forsythe’s In The Middle Somewhat Elevated, a mixed repertoire performed in October.
Guests entered the ballroom for a “three-course event:” performances by the ballet company, a three-course dinner and a live auction. The event raised approximately $490,000 to support PBT. The performances were kept short, foreshadowing to the upcoming season. The dancers performed under a white spotlight: Western Symphony by George Balanchine, Eternal Idol by Michael Smuin and music by Frederic Chopin, Sinfonietta by Jiři Kylίan, Le Corsaire by Marius Petipa and lastly, the inspiration of the ball, In the Middle Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe.
During the performances, salads were served, wine was poured, and a pre-selected entree was served: a choice of filet, Asian sea bass or butternut squash tart. Dessert was a decadent chocolate mousse, which was served just as the auctioneer began his calls. Participants would have to enter their bids through an auction app.