Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School was on the move this year, from the Byham Theater to the August Wilson Center, where the full student body performed twice to accommodate parents and friends in the more intimate venue.
The main attraction for the lower levels was Anastasia Wovchko’s selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where even the tiniest ballerinas never missed a beat during Mendelssohn’s twinkling score, executing swirling running patterns and steps with a finely-tuned precision.
That led into the finale, the Grand March, in Europe called the Grand Defile, an exhibition of poise and persistence involving all the student levels and leading to a breathtaking promenade where all of the students gradually filled the stage in rows.
Also on the program, which was also given at Point Park University’s George Roland White Performance Studio as part of Pre-Professional Showcases were the second act of Swan Lake (was it preparation for the PBT season next year?) and James Washington’s contemporary piece Beauty, the Lack of, which showed an astute use of levels and a chance for both Erin Kuwabara and Maine Kawashima, in alternating casts, to score with an emotionally intense solo.
Michael Smuin’s Quattro a Verdi was a smart selection for, yes, a quartet of PBT school’s best ballet technicians. Although there was nothing new — it was a chamber-sized version of Harald Lander’s Etudes from the floor combinations onward, the piece did gradually build in power and speed to an exciting conclusion. The men (Hunter Finnegan and Masahiro Haneji alternated, while Andrew Kaczmarek appeared at all six shows) impressed, with a noble air about them. Saho Shibayama and Diana Yohe (next year’s company apprentice) had a lovely, mature quality. But the petite powerhouse duo, Maine Kawashima and Mizuki Kubota, brought down the house with sparkling turns and phrasing.
Graduation Ball is one of the more engaging pieces in the repertoire for students, where they can be, well, pretty much themselves. But it’s also packed with technical hurdles among all the comedy, including a fouette duet and a drummer solo with precision aerial turns.
However, the standout role is The Pigtails Girl and here PBTS fielded two real talents. Eleanora Morris has a gorgeous line (though hidden by her dress and knickers) and will be on her way to study with the National Ballet of Canada and Sophie Silnicki made the most of her charismatic presence and will be returning in the fall. What fun they had flirting with the boys at the ball, while showing off their admirable technique.
There was a bonus, too, with PBT soloist Robert Moore en transvesti as the fussy Headmistress and Andre Reyes making his PBT debut (via principal at San Francisco Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet and Boston Ballet School) as the General. A duo with impeccable comic timing, they added their own professional nuances to the broad-based humor.