News

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr to Retire After Next Season

Terrence S. Orr with dancers of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT.

Change is in the air in Steel City: On Friday Terrence S. Orr announced that, after 22-years as artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, he will retire in June 2020 following the conclusion of PBT's 50th anniversary season.


Orr took the helm of PBT 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 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 being named PBT's artistic director.

During his tenure, Orr early on guided PBT through financial setbacks and has since overseen growth in the company's budget, ticket sales, school enrollment and campus, including the addition of a 14,000-square-foot annex building with new studios and a wellness center.

Orr and former principal dancer Julia Erickson in rehearsal

Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT

Orr has balanced PBT's repertory with a mix of story ballet classics and masterworks by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and others; he has also provided a platform for emerging choreographers, including those within the company. His more than 20 new commissions for PBT includes a string of music-artist-themed ballets in the early 2000s to songs by Lena Horne, Paul Simon, Sting and Bruce Springsteen. In recent years, Orr bolstered PBT's repertory with ballets by Jiří Kylian, John Neumeier and William Forsythe along with company debuts of La Bayadère, Beauty and the Beast and Moulin Rouge®: The Ballet.

He has also championed increased accessibility and educational programming at PBT and the nation's first professional sensory-friendly production of (his Pittsburgh-themed) The Nutcracker.

A succession plan and the formation of a search committee is underway by PBT's Board for Orr's replacement.

"It has been my honor to lead this company," says Orr. "I want to thank the dancers, musicians and patrons who have become like family. You have made my time here something I will always cherish."

Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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