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Preparing to be Professional: Proximity to the Company Spells Success for PBT School Students

Yu-Chieh Chao performs with the PBT Company in PBT: New Works. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea

When the artistic director of a professional ballet company saunters into the studio during school classes, students take notice. At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, however, it's not just eager pre-professional students who pay extra attention. Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr watches carefully, taking note of standout students, individual talent and, of course, who might be the right fit for the company.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre added six PBT School students to its roster this year, and the presence of the ubiquitous artistic director made an impact on the preparedness of those students and the decision to sign them to the company.


"The Pre-professional Division is where dancers begin making the transition from student to professional," Orr said. "At this stage, dancers are honing their performance skills, cultivating their individuality as artists and testing their technique in company repertoire."

The opportunity for PBT students to work so closely with the professional company has made the transition from student to working dancer a little less harrowing for Jonathan Breight, Yu-Chieh Chao, Christian Garcia Campos, Tommie Kesten, Colin McCaslin and Caitlyn Mendicino.

Tommie Kesten and Colin McCaslin, two of six new PBT company members recruited from the PBT School. Photo by Duane Ried

"I think the graduate program has helped me become stronger, not only in my ballet technique, but also in my performance quality," Mendicino told PBT's blog. "I have had the opportunity to perform with the company a lot as a grad, which has enabled me to pick up choreography quickly and work on my stage presence. Having the opportunity to work with these professionals has helped me mature as a person, get out of my comfort zone as a dancer, and grow as an artist."



Before the six students were called up to the big leagues, they had already performed in PBT productions of West Side Story Suite, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet and PBT: New Works, featuring choreography from company members.



This unique proximity to the professional company alongside Orr's watchful eye and involvement in the school programs creates an opportunity for students to get a feel for the full-fledged company life. Roughly 65 percent of the current company are PBT school alumni.

PBT Artistic Director, Terrence S. Orr rehearses students and company dancers. Photo by Kelly Perkovich.

"I feel I have grown as an artist during my first year at PBT as a grad student because PBT has given me so many performance opportunities," Kesten told PBT's blog. "I have performed at PBT more in this one year than I have at any other program I have attended in the past."

Tommie Kesten performs with PBT during dress rehearsal for Mozart in Motion. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea

Those experiences can translate into confidence on stage and in the studio. PBT School's students are prepared to be professional. They're guided by a stellar staff, run through a schedule fit for the pros and exposed early and often to the influence of the company's artistic director.

"It has been a pleasure to work closely with these dancers," Orr said. "They've stood out on stage in both student and professional performances, and they've proven their passion, not only for their art but for this company."

PBT School is embarking on a 40-city tour for its Intensive Summer Program and year-round pre-professional Graduate Program in January, 2019. For more information on the program, the audition process and to see if your city is on the tour, visit their website.

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