Ballet Careers

Steel City Strength: Terrence Orr's Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Offers Dancers a Supportive and Secure Career

Orr coaching principal Julia Erickson durin ga rehearsal for La Bayadère (photo by Aimee DiAndrea, courtesy PBT)

“I was tricked into it," says Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence S. Orr, recalling his introduction to ballet. As a young boy, he wanted to learn acrobatics, but when there wasn't a beginning class available, the studio owner put him in ballet. By the time he realized he'd been duped, Orr was already enjoying it. He kept dancing, becoming a principal with San Francisco Ballet by 17. He then rose through the ranks at American Ballet Theatre, where he also served as ballet master and répétiteur.

These days it's hard to imagine the forthright but affable Orr, now 72, being fooled by anyone. His commanding presence and clarity of purpose have helped position PBT as one of the nation's top regional ballet companies and training schools.


In 1997, Orr replaced former New York City Ballet star Patricia Wilde as director of the company, which was founded in 1969 by Nicolas Petrov and Loti Falk. His accomplishments at the AGMA-participating troupe are noteworthy. After guiding PBT through financial troubles in the early 2000s, Orr oversaw the remodeling of its five-studio facility and acquired housing for out-of-town high school students in PBT School's pre-professional division. Most recently, he spearheaded another expansion of the school, including two new studios and a wellness center.

Orr's vision for the company goes back to when he applied to be artistic director. While Wilde had introduced more Balanchine works to PBT, Orr advocated for a more varied repertoire of full-length classics, famous ballets the company had never done and brand-new creations.

In recent years, he has pushed to expand all three facets of that approach. “My dancers are a very talented and strong group from the corps up to principals," he says. That confidence in his artists has led to PBT's first full-length productions of La Bayadère and Le Corsaire; Pittsburgh premieres of influential works by Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe, John Neumeier and Jean-Christophe Maillot; and world premieres by Dwight Rhoden and Viktor Plotnikov. With that, the company's budget has also grown from $7.3 million in 2010 to $9.8 million in 2016. This October, PBT will open its season with another ambitious production: Orr's newly restaged Giselle.

Principal Christopher Budzynski is just one of the dancers attracted to PBT's diverse repertoire. He describes Orr as a “very demanding but friendly and nurturing director. He encourages us not to be afraid of trying different things and doesn't hold it against us if we fail." Budzynski also likes the diversity at PBT. “The company is not cookie-cutter. There are different body types and personalities."

Dancers tend to stick with the company for many years. Principal Julia Erickson, now in her 15th season, says, “we are everyone else's cheerleaders. There is a respect for hierarchy, but a support system exists within the ranks."

Dancers also benefit from the expert knowledge of Orr's wife, company ballet mistress and former ABT star Marianna Tcherkassky. “It's an education for them to have a ballerina of her stature around," says Orr. Though he expects his dancers to work diligently and develop as artists, his specific expectations can differ for each person. “I am pretty patient," he says. “If somebody gets into the company, I know that I have brought them in for the right reasons."

Orr also encourages his dancers' own creative interests. Several have choreographed for the school and company, most recently principal Yoshiaki Nakano. Erickson runs Barre, a line of energy bars and wellness products for dancers, with her husband, former PBT member Aaron Ingley.

A newer tradition that makes PBT stand out on a national level is its sensory-friendly performances geared toward children and adults on the autism spectrum. In 2013, PBT was the first American professional ballet company to produce an adapted Nutcracker, and they've since performed special evenings of Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast, with quieter audio, less startling effects and more relaxed house etiquette.

In addition to continuing these performances, Orr says he'd like to add a few dancers to the roster and keep growing the school. He's also interested in having more live music and touring. All of this upward momentum can be summed up by the person who knows Orr best. His wife, Tcherkassky, says, “Terry points us in a direction and says, 'Hey, you want to go there? This is how we can do it.' "

At a glance: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Number of dancers: 30

Length of contract: 38 weeks

Starting salary: $1,028 per week

Performances per year: 50

Website: pbt.org

Audition Advice

One of the best routes into the company is through the PBT School. The company also holds an open audition in March and accepts videos year-round. If Orr is interested, the next step may be joining the school's graduate program or being invited to take company class and meet with him for one-on-one interviews.

“The look of the dancer is very important," says Orr, “and that can be defined in all kinds of ways. I want dancers who are not only great technicians but also gifted actors. An equally important part of the audition process is having conversations with the dancer to get to know their heart and how they will fit in."

Show Comments ()
Ballet Stars
Canadian junior finalist Mya Kresnyak in a variation from "Paquita." Photo by Richard Finkelstein, Courtesy USA IBC.

On June 10, 119 dancers from 19 countries gathered in Jackson, MS to compete in the USA International Ballet Competition. Today, the USA IBC announced the list of 32 finalists, who will compete for medals and cash awards in Round III, held June 19-21. All of the finalists will receive a travel stipend, and medalists and award winners will be announced at the competition's gala on June 22. See the full list below, and stay tuned all week on our Facebook and Instagram pages as we bring you the latest from Jackson, live.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Cleaning is a daily procedure. Proper maintenance will help extend the life of your floor and protect its special slip-resistant surface.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Ulrik Birkkjaer and Susanne Grinder in Bournonville's Napoli." Photo by Costin Radu, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow Dance.

On June 20, Royal Danish Ballet will open the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival with a weeklong run in the historic Ted Shawn Theatre. The celebrated relationship between the Copenhagen-based company and the Pillow dates back to 1954, when leading RDB soloist Inge Sand stepped in to replace a dancer from another company at the last minute, resulting in her U.S. debut. Her popularity led to the company's inaugural U.S. performance at the festival the next summer. According to the Pillow's director of preservation, Norton Owen, this was also the first time that works by August Bournonville, the famed 19th-century Danish choreographer, were seen in this country. Following its success at Jacob's Pillow, RDB made its New York City debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1956, and in 1957 the King of Denmark knighted Jacob's Pillow founder Ted Shawn for his role in bringing Danish ballet to America. Over the next 20 years, soloists from RDB returned to the Berkshires frequently to great acclaim; their most recent visit was in 2007.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters has a good thing going on. Not only is he one of the company's rising young dancers, but he's also a ballet celebrity on social media, where he charts his life on Instagram and on his hugely popular YouTube series, "The Pre Show" (which he describes as "tons of ballet, banter, boys and lots of backstage shenanigans").

The Dover, New Hampshire, native, who seems just as comfortable in a pair of pink heels as he does onstage, trained at Walnut Hill School for the Arts and Portsmouth School of Ballet. While a member of Houston Ballet II, he landed an apprenticeship with the company after winning the Contemporary Dance Prize at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. He joined the main company that same year and was promoted to soloist in December 2017. Known for his big personality, elegantly long lines and sensual flow in contemporary work, Watters, 26, is ready to take on the next phase of his career. He recently spoke with Pointe about his new rank and his mission to help others feel proud of who they are.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Sara Webb and Connor Walsh with Artists of Houston Ballet in "Swan Lake" choreographed by Stanton Welch. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.


The Australian Ballet's Triple Bill, Verve, Includes New Work by Company Dancer Alice Topp

Verve, a triple-bill program from The Australian Ballet running June 21-30 in Melbourne, will host revivals of works from resident choreographers Stephen Baynes and Tim Harbour, as well as a world premiere from company coryphée Alice Topp. Topp's Aurum is inspired by kintsugi, a Japanese art in which broken ceramics are mended using lacquer colored with silver or gold, so that the cracks are emphasized, instead of hidden. In Aurum, Topp applies that philosophy to the human ability to find beauty in vulnerability and imperfections. Completing the bill are Baynes's Constant Variants, which pairs neo-classical ballet with a Tchaikovsky score, and Harbour's Filigree and Shadow, a contemporary ballet featuring striking set and lighting design.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
ABT principals Christine Shevchenko and James Whiteside rehearse "Swan Lake" in Singapore.

In the middle of American Ballet Theatre's spring season, principal dancer Christine Shevchenko takes a break from her comedic role of Pierrette in Harlequinade to (briefly) transform into a swan. During the half hour rehearsal, Shevchenko seamlessly transitions from Odette to Odile, running through her various solos without pause—save for the short conferences with ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, which switch between Russian and English almost as quickly as Shevchenko whips out her fouetté turns (but more on those later).

"The rehearsal process is a lot different right now because every week it's a new ballet," Shevchenko says during a rehearsal break last week. "I'm really trying to squeeze in as many Swan Lake rehearsals as I can, and at the same time, I'm trying to prepare for Don Quixote, which is the week after," she explains of juggling the season's eight programs. "This is my first year as a principal during the Met season, so I'm learning how to figure it out as we keep going. In a way, I'm used to doing parts last minute because that's how I got most of my roles," she says. Ahead, Shevchenko shares exactly how she's gearing up for her Met debut on June 20.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars
Carla Fracci in "Giselle," via YouTube.

In the late 1950s and 60s, Italian ballerina Carla Fracci won the world over with her definitive interpretations of romantic ballets like La Sylphide, La Sonnambula, and, of course, Giselle. At just 22 years old, she left her home stage at La Scala in Milan to begin guesting internationally, eventually forming a famous partnership with the dashing danseur Erik Bruhn at American Ballet Theatre. The two appear together in this film of ABT's Giselle, in which Fracci's Act I variation is as near to perfection as any Giselle before or after.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!