Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s ‘Cinderella’ filled with happy endings, rich history

From April 19-21, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) performed Cinderella at the Benedum Center for Performing Arts in downtown Pittsburgh. For an evening, audiences were swept away into an enchanting land far, far away, where the girl falls in love with the prince and they live happily ever after.

For an extra-special treat from The Ballet Barre, check out this slideshow of photos of the talented PBT dancers during the final dress rehearsal of Cinderella before opening night! (All photos by Kim Roberts).

Cinderella Wordle

Cinderella Synopsis (created at wordle.net)

The PBT dancers put on a stunning performance filled with smiles and glitter, plus a pair of pointe shoes positively dripping in sparkles as Cinderella’s glass slippers. The story of Cinderella has been told and re-told throughout the ages across the world. According to the playbill from PBT’s production, there are more than 1,500 different versions of the fairy tale that have been told through many formats, including ballets, plays, musical, movies, and operas. Click on the graphic above to see the most common words found in the Cinderella synopsis in the playbill!

The most popular version in modern day America is the classic Walt Disney movie Cinderella. Take a look at the video below to see a clip of “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from the classic movie!

The version of the story told in PBT’s production differed from the movie, but not enough to leave audience members confused. In PBT’s production, which was choreographed by Septime Webre, Cinderella lives with her father and two stepsisters, who are played by male dancers. The result is a needed comedic touch that lasts throughout the show and produced plenty of giggles from little girls in the audience.

When Cinderella meets her fairy godmother for the first time, the fairy godmother and her helping fairies represent all four seasons as they make Cinderella’s wishes come true. From there, the rest of the story continues as it does in the movie. The overall effect was a mesmerizing one for the little girls and adults in the audience alike.

Cinderella Ballet

Cinderella’s rag dress is magically transformed into a ball gown by her fairy godmother in PBT’s ‘Cinderella.’
Photo by Kim Roberts

The Prince and Cinderella dance the night away, or at least until the clock strikes midnight. Then she must flee as her beautiful ball gown transforms back into her work clothes, and she leaves behind just one of her sparkling pointe shoes. The prince finds it and travels the world to find the girl it belongs to, finally ending at Cinderella’s cottage and reuniting with her at last. The two are married and live happily ever after.

Webre’s choreography showcased the impeccable technique of the PBT dancers with its complex patterns and beautiful pas de deuxs between Cinderella and her prince. Webre, currently artistic director for The Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C., created ballets that have been performed throughout the world. He also performed in the works of many famous choreographers, including Alvin Ailey and George Balanchine, according to The Washington Ballet’s website.

Take a look at this map to see some of the North American ballet companies that have performed works by Webre in recent years.

The classical music performed by a live orchestra at the production of Cinderella was composed by Sergei Prokofiev, whose music has been a part of the production for more than 60 years. Prokofiev began work on Cinderella the ballet in 1940, but he was forced to stop when World War II broke out. He picked up working on the ballet again in 1943 and finished in 1944. The very first performance of his completed work was performed in Moscow, Russia, by the Kirov Ballet in the Bolshoi Theatre on November 21, 1945, according to Music Academy Online.

Check out this timeline to see Prokofiev’s life and his many accomplishments in the world of ballet.

The PBT dancers brought this ballet to life in downtown Pittsburgh elegantly. Not only were the dancers themselves beautiful, but the sets and costumes whisked the audience away into a different world. The best performances of the night were the dances between Cinderella and her prince. In the Saturday night production, the leads were performed by principal dancers Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski. What made their performances special — besides their beautiful dancing, of course — was the fact they are a married couple in real life. To see the two of them dancing together as Cinderella and Prince Charming was a special experience. The two dancers were able to gracefully complement each other and danced as if they were one person, while simultaneously showcasing their own talents as well.

Cinderella Leads

Cinderella Leads During Performance Weekend       (Percentage of shows performed in)

To see which PBT dancers performed the leading role of Cinderella in the company’s six performances last weekend, check out this chart to the left with information from PBT’s website.

PBT successfully brought Webre’s choreography and Prokofiev’s score together in a production that flawlessly told the fairy tale that so many have come to love. If you ever have the opportunity to see this version of Cinderella the ballet, I highly recommend it. This ballet is perfect for ballet and dance lovers and fans of the fairy tale itself. It is the perfect way to introduce newcomers to ballet because of its clear, familiar story and happy ending. It was honestly my favorite ballet that I have ever seen because it brought a classic fairy tale from childhood to life and took me away to a world of happily ever after, even if just for a couple of hours.

Cinderella the ballet overview coming soon

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Hello dance lovers!

Hopefully you had a good weekend? Did you see any dance performances in the past few days? It was a big weekend for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT). The company performed the ballet Cinderella at the Benedum Center for Performing Arts six times over the weekend, and each performance was more magical than the last!

Coming soon, The Ballet Barre will have an in-depth look at Cinderella the ballet in Pittsburgh, its choreographer and composer, and a review of PBT’s performance. Plus, get excited for a special photo slideshow sure to transport you to an enchanted kingdom far, far away!

Until then, keep dancing!

Cecchetti method of ballet

Enrico Cecchetti

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Maybe you’ve heard of cecchetti. If so, then you’ve probably learned the patterns, studied the theory, and waited anxiously for your exam results in the mail.

Or, maybe you have no idea what on earth cecchetti is or how it could possibly relate to dance. No worries! This post will give you a taste of what the cecchetti method is all about.

Cecchetti is a method of ballet created by Enrico Cecchetti, who lived from 1850 to 1928. Cecchetti was an Italian Ballet dancer who lived in Rome and worked to develop a ballet technique that focused on students learning proper placement and poise.

Ballet students studying the cecchetti method start in Grade I, where they learn the basics of ballet. Cecchetti classes consists of barre work, center work, and patterns across the floor. The patterns are laid out in a syllabus for each grade. Because of the structured class material, students can learn the patterns quickly and then focus on breaking down each step and movement in every pattern. Students take exams administered by the Cecchetti Council of America, which includes doing each of the patterns for that grade level and knowing the related theory, which includes the French names for each step as well as their English translations. With each grade, the number of patterns at the barre and in the center increases, the amount of theory knowledge builds, and the technique must show improvement.

All exams and classes are done in ballet shoes. Grade V is the first exam level to include a section in pointe shoes, by which time dancers should have the strength, placement, and proper technique to use correctly.

Cecchetti is an excellent way for young dancers to learn the discipline and structure that go into learning the art of dance. The lessons learned in cecchetti classes will carry over to every other dance genre and result in a stronger, better dancer.

So the next time someone brings up cecchetti in your everyday dance life, you can join in the conversation!

“Dance is an hourly and daily discipline, but it is also a lifelong happiness.” -Unknown

Dance survey results

The Ballet Barre Wordle

Made at wordle.net

Thanks for taking The Ballet Barre’s survey last week! This post is all about the results of that survey, visualized. You’ll have the chance to check out what people are saying about dance today and what their preferences are. Take a look at this graphic to the right to see some of the most-used words on The Ballet Barre blog. Do any of them look familiar? Just click on any of the graphics to view a bigger picture!

The Ballet Barre’s readers helped out with this post by filling out a survey. Check out this map to see where in the U.S. everyone is from!

How important is dance to you?

Dance is an important part of many people’s lives, whether they are dancers themselves or an avid fan of the arts. This chart on the left shows the number of people who described how important dance is in their personal lives. Clearly many people find dance to be very important and are concerned with keeping dance involved in their everyday lives.

Favorite way to watch dance by age column

 

No matter your level of interest in dance, everyone has their preferences for experiencing dance. Would you rather go see a ballet  in the city? You could see dancing in a musical theater production, like Wicked or Anything Goes. Or maybe you’d rather see a friend or family member perform in a recital or competition. Or, maybe television shows like So You Think You Can Dance? a are more your speed. The chart on the right illustrates people’s favorite ways to watch dance, categorized by age.

How many dance performances in a year lineHow many of these performances do people typically see in a given year? This chart to the left shows how many dance productions people attend. The results range from people who may or may not see a show or two each year to people who absolutely love the arts and see as many shows as they can! Where would people ideally like to see these shows? Check out this map to see which cities were voted the favorites for attending a dance show.

Favorite style of dance pie

What is your all-time favorite style of dance? It may be a hard question to answer. All of the different styles complement and build on each other. But still, if you had to pick a favorite which would it be? The Ballet Barre readers chose their favorite style of dance to watch or maybe perform! Take a look at this chart on the right to see the readers’ top choices. The results are pretty spread out with so many great styles to choose from.

Favorite dancer donutDoes your favorite dance style match that of your favorite dancer? The Ballet Barre also asked readers to pick their favorite dancer, ranging from the master of modern dance, Martha Graham, to some of ballet’s finest, Mikhail Barishnikov and Anna Pavlova, to tapping legends, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, to the great jazz choreographer, Bob Fosse. Check out this graph on the left to see which dancers our readers chose as the best.

Taken a dance class pie

You don’t need to have ever stepped foot in a dance class to have a favorite dance style, dancer, or way to watch a dance performance. But we wondered how many of our readers have experience in a dance class. It turns out…a lot! Just take a look at the graph to the right to see for yourself.

What you enjoy most bar

 

After getting all this great information from our readers, we just wondered one more thing: what is our readers’ favorite way to experience dance? Taking a dance class is of course an important option, but the feeling you get when performing onstage is a huge part of why dancers love to dance so much. Plus, attending a dance performance and watching dancers is fun too. Check out this graphic on the left to see what our readers enjoy most.

Clearly there are many factors that go into being a dance lover. With so many different styles, there are seemingly endless options of ways to experience dance. Hopefully these visualizations have given you a clear picture of the different ways people can love and enjoy dance.

The dance is over, the applause subsided, but the joy and feeling will stay with you forever.

– W.M. Tory

Pittsburgh CLO Performances

Theater

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

The Pittsburgh CLO is the city’s esteemed regional theatre company. The CLO puts on plays and musicals that feature dancing in downtown Pittsburgh and is a large part of the Cultural District. Big names in the world of musical theatre productions like “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat” and “Hairspray” have been performed in past CLO shows, while productions of the classic “42nd Street” and a couple of Disney musicals are among the productions set to take the stage this summer.

Check out this timeline to get a taste of some of the productions that the Pittsburgh CLO has performed in recent years.

Top 5 Musical Theater Dance Performances

Broadway sign

Photo by Kim Roberts

I don’t know about you, but I think there’s nothing better than a night of musical theater. Downtown Pittsburgh has the privilege of being a stop for many of the Broadway national tours, so I’ve had the opportunity to see plenty of incredible shows in the past few years. (By the way, if you are a college student, I strongly advise you to take advantage of student discount tickets! Definitely worth it!)

The great thing about musical theater is that it has everything you could ask for in a live performance. The actors and actresses in these productions are amazing triple-threats who can sing, dance and act like no other. It is an honor just to be in the same building as these people and hear their voices — which is often all I can do from the very last row of the second balcony. (I assume that these people have faces and are, in fact, using appropriate facial expressions throughout the show, but I can’t be sure from where I typically sit!)

Dance in musical theater is so important because it is not only entertaining and fun to watch, but it is done with song, and it furthers the plot. These huge dance numbers have to help tell an understandable story while still being technically strong and visually appealing — no simple task!

So here is a list of what I think are the top 5 dance numbers in musical theater. Please feel free to comment and tell me what you would add to the list!

5: “42nd Street” from 42nd Street

This number is all about tap, tap, tap! 42nd Street is a true classic Broadway with plenty of tap dancing. Seeing huge groups of people dance together is so powerful and enjoyable to watch. Check out this special video of the musical’s opening number below.

4: “Dancing Through Life” from Wicked

The song title says it all. This seven-minute musical number from one of the biggest and most successful Broadway shows of the decade tells a story through song and dance. The Oz-inspired choreography has a mix of jazz, modern, and ballroom elements. Check it out a clip from this dance number below!

3: “My Strongest Suit” from Aida

This sassy song and dance number is all about girl power. Nonstop singing and dancing fills the stage with dresses galore. Songs like this are what make musical theater so great because they make you want to get up and join in. The lyrics and dance moves throughout this piece are entertaining and fun to watch, plus it is a perfect example of character development while furthering the plot. Because. after all, “I would rather wear a barrel than conservative apparel, for a dress has always been my strongest suit!” Take a look at the beginning of this song below!

2: “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes

Anything Goes clearly features tap dancing in this number, and all you have to do is sit back and listen to those taps perfectly in sync. Great big dance numbers are so much fun to watch, and this is a great example of tap’s precision at its finest. Check out the number at the 2011 Tony Awards below.

1: “Step in Time” from Mary Poppins

Speaking of incredible tap numbers, who could forget this classic from Mary Poppins? These chimney sweeps can do some pretty amazing things! This number take dance and makes it fit the characters and tell a story. Mary Poppins herself adds some color to the piece as well. Seeing this number live is truly amazing. It’ll give you goosebumps for sure! Take a look at the video below!

All of these dance numbers from famous Broadway musicals are incredible, and there are many, many more out there! What’s your favorite dance number from a musical? If you have the opportunity to see any of these shows live — do it! It’s a decision you won’t regret.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers

Pointe shoes

Photo from flickr.com

Pittsburgh is known for its talented football players, its skilled hockey players, and its love/hate relationship with its baseball team. But the Steel City hasn’t been quite as well known for its world-class ballet company — something that is changing as the company continually produces high quality shows featuring its highly skilled dancers.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT), with its rehearsal facilities located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, is made up of 27 company dancers from across the globe. The ballet dancers will finish their current season with performances of “Cinderella” with the PBT orchestra April 19-21 at the Benedum Center for Performing Arts in downtown Pittsburgh.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s time for a break. PBT recently announced the lineup for its 2013-2014 season, which will consist of “An Evening of Twyla Tharp” in October, “The Nutcracker” in December, “Swan Lake” with the orchestra in February, “3×3” in March 2014 and “Don Quixote” with the orchestra in April 2014.

The PBT dancers will be hard at work preparing for the next season. Because ballet is a continual strive for perfection, there is always room for improvement — even with the incredibly skilled dancers in a professional ballet company like Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Check out this map mash-up to see where each of the PBT company members is from. Their hometowns range from right here in Pittsburgh to the other side of the globe. Clearly PBT is a world-class company that draws ballet dancers of all backgrounds.

A typical day at the dance studio

Dance studio

Photo by Kim Roberts

A dance teacher’s role extends beyond the walls of the studio and the hours of an evening of dance classes. While every dance studio is different, a typical day is a fast-paced and exciting one for any dance teacher.

Here are three different perspectives of what a dance teacher’s typical day is like from three dance teachers from Ken and Jean Dance Studio, who were featured in the last post from The Ballet Barre. The following Q&A is an excerpt from an interview and asks a question to dance teachers Darcy Field, Sandi Plavchak and Jen Tancraitor.

The Ballet Barre: What is a typical day like at the studio?

Darcy Field, studio owner and dance teacher:

“My typical day is a little bit different, being a studio owner. Generally when I’m up in the morning there’s a lot of either book work, or program work, or costumes. Right now, I’m ordering merchandise while sitting here, So for me, it really is not a job where … I’m at the studio and those are the hours. It’s extremely long hours, just in the aspect of the recital and everything that has to be ordered for the recital. So it certainly ramps up, but the process really starts in August for the recital [in June]. The nicest part is really coming in and seeing the students.”

Sandi Plavchak, dance teacher:

“I would always start out in the morning searching for music for the day in my library and going through what I’m doing with the class for each day, so a lot of pre-planning. It’s never really a typical day, something always erupts. A little one needs something that they didn’t need before, or they’re having an emotional, dramatic day, so you have to sort of stop and figure out how to keep them going while the entire class is going. So there’s always something going on throughout the day, sometimes parents need a little encouragement … so you need to find the time to talk to them.

The classes roll right into the next with very little break, so it’s typical that you go from the 4-9:30 hour and barely catch a breath, but as long as you’re prepared that anything can happen, and it doesn’t throw you through a loop if you don’t get in what you wanted to get in in a day. You know, eventually, what you planned with them will take place at some point, but you can’t set yourself to a specific time frame. Because with so many kids in different age ranges, something’s bound to come up that sort of throws you.

And for me, often I’ll do a pattern that I think would be perfect, and the next week I’ll hate. And I could leave it and no one would be the wiser, but for me I have to fix it and backtrack and take a couple steps backward to step forward.”

Jen Tancraitor, dance teacher:

“A typical day is very hectic. It’s very enjoyable, though, and there’s always costumes to be props to be prepared and costumes to be fixed and choreography to do. So it very hectic, but also very enjoyable in the same sense.”

Clearly a lot goes into a single day of classes at a dance studio. Dance teachers need to juggle students and parents, music and choreography, props and costumes, and any other surprises that pop up during the day without missing a beat. Teachers like these need to be ready for anything on any day of tap, ballet, jazz, cecchetti, pointe, stretch, and acro classes.

The art of teaching dance to young ballerinas, tappers, jazz dancers

Dance teacher

Photo by Kim Roberts

What is the most important part of learning to dance? The dance shoes? The music? The recitals or competitions?

It all comes down to the dance teachers.

Young dancers often grow up in the same studio from age 3 to their high school graduation. That gives their dance teachers the unique opportunity to see them grow and transform as dancers and as individuals.

From personal experience, I can honestly say that I had the best of luck in my dance training because — in my extremely biased opinion — I grew up with the absolute best dance teachers in the world. You probably feel the same way about your dance teachers. These feelings just go to show how influential dance teachers are in the lives of their students.

I had the opportunity to talk to three of my former dance teachers from Ken and Jean Dance Studio in North Versailles, Pa., to discuss what goes into being a dance teacher.

Check out this video package below of my interviews with these three teachers during a typical Friday evening of dance classes in March.

Multimedia Video Package: The Life of a Dance Teacher from Kim Roberts on Vimeo.

Clearly, these dance teachers absolutely love what they do every single day. Their passion for dance and for their students is evident, and the work incredibly hard to make the classroom experience the very best for young dancers. Through my interviews with them, I found out that being a dance teacher is so much more than what happens in a classroom.

“The classroom aspect is the most important part,” said Sandi Plavchak, a dance teacher at Ken and Jean’s. “But besides that, there’s so much background that goes into it, from searching for the right music, to choreography aspects, to performances, to costuming. There is scenery involved, there are props always required and necessary for various dances, and the end result is, performance-wise for the show, for not only for those kids to be onstage and feel great and like they’re having so much fun and they’ve learned so much, but for the audience members to feel like every number is a little bit different and the process is enjoyable, whether you’re involved in dance or not. And that aspect takes a long time to accomplish as well.”

For studio owner and teacher Darcy Field, whose parents, Ken and Jean Phifer, opened the studio, her favorite part of her job is the chance to see her dance students grow up in the studio.

“I think what I like best is working with all ages and seeing that continuity. I wouldn’t want to work with all young, and I wouldn’t want to work with all advanced. I really think it’s that ability to work with all ages,” Field said.

The opportunity for dance teachers to really get to know their students over many years is what makes the bond between dance student and teacher so strong. For teacher Jen Tancraitor, who grew up at Ken and Jean’s herself and then returned as a full-time teacher after college, it is a joy to teach students that she sees every single day for dance class.

Dance Teacher

Photo by Kim Roberts

“I don’t have kids myself, so every child I see here is really my own, in a sense that I get to see them every single day and I get the joy of seeing them every single day and seeing them grow from a young kid into an older kid,” said Tancraitor. “I haven’t been here very long, so knowing when I was 18, seeing some of the kids that I assisted with now graduated, means a lot, and it clearly shows my journey through dancing and what has been accomplished through that.”

Dance teachers combine their love of dance and their love of teaching students in the classroom every single day. Their students grow and improve in their technique, their character, and their love of dance every day as a result of their teachers’ love and dedication.

Top 5 Dance Movies

Dancers

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

You’ve got to love a good dance number — the kind that makes you tap your toes and want to get up and join in! Great dance movies are everywhere from every era, and I’ve put together a list of the top 5 dance movies (or just movies that have great dance scenes in them). So take a look and see if your favorite made the list, and enjoy the videos of some of the best dance numbers from those movies.

Movie #5: Dirty Dancing

This iconic coming-of-age movie charmed audiences across America in 1987. It is still considered a classic today, and its famous dance scenes are the reason it made this list. This final dance to “Time of My Life” is treasured today, thanks to the romantic partnering by leads Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Check out this video clip of the dance!

Movie #4: Singin’ in the Rain

This 1952 movie is a classic for so many reasons. Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor make a dynamic duo along with Debbie Reynolds in this movie about the beginning of “talking pictures.” Kelly and O’Connor give a memorable performance that is the true essence of classic tap dancing. “Moses Supposes” is a fantastic dance number from this movie because it shows the impeccable skill and technique of these great dancers of history. Take a look — they don’t miss a sound!

Movie #3: Step Up

Step Up blends hip hop and the streets with graceful jazz and ballet dancer. The two characters, Tyler and Nora, come together to share their love of dance. This movie from 2006 is a great one to show how different styles of dance can come together beautifully. Here is the final dance scene from the movie — a thrilling and exciting combination of jazz, ballet and hip-hop.

Movie #2: Center Stage

This 2000 movie shows ballet at its finest in its many different forms, from classical to contemporary. It gives some insight into the struggles and challenges of aspiring ballerinas in New York City’s American Ballet School. To read a more in-depth review of the movie, check out my previous post: “Review of the dance movie ‘Center Stage.'” The best dance number in this movie is without doubt the contemporary ballet piece at the end of the movie. Take a look at this video to see why this ballerina and her bright red point shoes made the list!

Movie #1: Hairspray

Who doesn’t love a good musical? 2007’s Hairspray never ceases to lift my spirits and make me desperately want to join in! The best dance number in this movie is the movie-ending, show-stopping “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” where Tracy Turnblad and her family and friends celebrate the breaking of racial and social barriers in 1960s Baltimore. This iconic dance number features a huge group of dancers in perfect synchrony. The bright outfits and up-do hairstyles add fun and flavor to this ’60s throwback. Check out this video and enjoy this scene from my #1 dance movie!