Off Stage: Byham House is Now a Home

Carolyn Byham prepares to cut the ribbon surrounded by State Senator Jay Costa, Pittsburgh council member Doug Shields, husband William Byham and the Three Musketeers

The anticipation is over. Fifteen young ballet dancers (they are still waiting for one more aspiring ballerina from Japan) have moved into Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s latest acquisition, Byham House, which will provide a safe environment for its young dancers. For years the company had a program that matched the dancers with local families. Sometimes that didn’t work, given cultural differences, time schedules and, well, personalities.

These young dancers, some of whom leave their families at the age of sixteen, began resorting to apartments, spotlighting the need for a facility such as this. William and Carolyn Byham came to the rescue, as they have so often for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in the past (and the Byham Theater Downtown and other non-profit organizations as well).

The couple, who are PBT charter subscribers, presided over the ribbon-cutting last week, with such public figures as State Senator Jay Costa, Pittsburgh council member Doug Shields, PBT board chair Shelley Taylor, longtime PBT supporter Bette Evans and National Society of Arts and Letters president Norman Brown.

I had a sneak peak over the summer at the facility that is just a mile from the PBT studios on Liberty Avenue. But now the colorful IKEA furniture , coordinated by Larry Scott, was in place in the common room. (The large flat-screen television came with rules attached and a schedule to sign.)

A brief tour found mostly double and triple rooms, all efficiently designed, and already neatly showing signs of artistic individuality. Personalized white marker boards decorated each door. There was a “Dirty Dancing” poster in one room with pink tights drying on a mesh clothes hamper. Another had large pictures of ballerinas Paloma Herrera from American Ballet Theatre and Alina Cojocaru of the Royal Ballet. PBT photos and artwork decorated the halls.

The designers allowed space for a computer room, a space for studying and dining and kitchen facilities, complete with a house chef. There is even shelf space to store personal foods and snacks. Graduate resident director Marchae Peters has her own small apartment on site and already lined up activities to fill the down time (from the Carnegie Science Center to Sandcastle and Monroeville Mall to movie night) to help these out-of-town dancers bond with Pittsburgh.

I ran into Marchae with three of the students on the second floor, already creating new memories by

From left: Ethan Lee, Leslie Green, Aidan Schubert and Marchae Peters

taking photographs. Petite Leslie Green, who will “be 16,” came from Kalispell, Montana and bourreed into Pittsburgh for PBT’s summer session. Impressed by the quality of teaching and the increased number of training hours, she returned full-time at the invitation of the PBT staff.

Lithe, long-limbed Aidan Schubert, already 16, came from Fredonia, Arizona, home of the Arizona Ballet and its Pittsburgh connections. Of course artistic director Ib Anderson was a former ballet master here, but it is Aidan’s striking resemblance to former PBT principal Nanci Crowley, now AB school director, that caught the eye.

Budding cavalier Ethan Lee, who will “be 18,” is a native by comparison. He came from North Canton, Ohio, for a summer session several years ago. Now a few inches taller, he returned for the summer and, invitation in hand, persuaded his parents to let him stay.

So while the dignitaries talked about the importance of the arts and ballet in general, this trio was tangible evidence that this House will become the home that is needed to attract top talent to the burgeoning PBT school program.

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