Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in rehearsal. Photo by Aimee DiAndrea, Courtesy PBT.

Watch How Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Dancers Learned to Sing and Act for Jerome Robbins' "West Side Story Suite"

Ballet dancers train their entire lives to hone one skill. And that skill doesn't require them to use their voices onstage. But Jerome Robbins' West Side Story Suite requires a different kind of dancer; a triple threat who can also sing and act. This spring, the dancers at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre were pushed in a whole new direction while working on the company's program in honor of Robbins' centennial, opening this week.

Robbins is known for his iconic choreography for both ballet and Broadway; West Side Story Suite is the perfect intersection of those two worlds. He choreographed West Side Story, the timeless modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, for Broadway in 1956. In 1961 he followed that up with choreography for the film, showing audiences worldwide that sometimes dance is the coolest way to work through a conflict. In 1995, Robbins condensed the main song and dance numbers from the show into West Side Story Suite, a 36-minute work for New York City Ballet.

PBT produced a series of fun videos interviewing dancers and coaches on what it's been like to learn to sing and act (while dancing). As principal Julia Erickson puts it, "I have had a lot of experience singing... in the car and in the shower."


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Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

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The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

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