By Bridget Seelinger | The Duquesne Duke
In a dance as romantic as ballet and in a city as beautiful as Pittsburgh, it is only natural for love to be in the air at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. As the 2015-2016 season dawns for the dance company, it seems appropriate to take a look at two principal dancers who are both in love with Pittsburgh and each other.
Christopher Budzynski and Alexandra Kochis have climbed to some of the highest positions in the ballet company, but they have very different stories as to how they got to where they are today.
“My mom was actually my teacher so at a very young age I was somewhat forced into it, I would say,” Budzynski said. “But at a point, as I was going on, I got more into it and started pursuing it on my own.”
Kochis turned down admission to Georgetown in order to pursue a career in ballet.
“I was finishing up my training at Boston Ballet School [after high school] and the assistant artistic director approached me and said that they were considering offering me a contract for Boston Ballet II,” Kochis said. “It really took me by surprise because I hadn’t really been thinking in that mindset … I was thinking of becoming a physical therapist, I figured [the contract with Boston Ballet II] was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Budzynski went on to study ballet at the North Carolina School for the Arts and was given the opportunity to study at The American School of Ballet in New York City and at the Hungarian National Ballet School in Budapest. Following school, he danced for the Boston Ballet, and during a long run of the “Nutcracker” is when he met Kochis.
It all began with a craving for spaghetti and meatballs. Kochis was standing at the call board, vocalizing a desire to go get spaghetti and meatballs when Budzynski offered to go with her. They ended up going to a pizza place which also had a piano bar sing-along.
“I think what ultimately won me over was him singing ‘What a Wonderful World’ in a Louis Armstrong voice to me at that piano bar sing-along,” Kochis joked, “That pretty much blew my mind.”
The two of them married soon after and came to Pittsburgh, seeking a change in scenery and new inspiration. They both took an immediate liking to Terrence Orr, the artistic director for Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and both said that they love living in Pittsburgh.
“We are big outdoors people, so a lot of weekends we like to get out into the outdoors and do some camping and some kayaking,” Budzynski said.
“It’s a city, but it’s very much a community … The people are friendly and very loyal,” Kochis said. “I really just love that juxtaposition of the richness of the city, but of the intimacy of it.”
Budzynski and Kochis said they have really enjoyed the productions that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has put on in the recent years. Budzynski said that he particularly enjoyed “La Bayadère” and dancing as Alberecht in “Giselle.”
“There are things about each show that are super special,” Kochis said. “What we’re really fortunate to have in Pittsburgh is being able to dance to live music. When you feel a real connection to the conductor, when you do a variation, and each step you take is supported by him and all of the members of the orchestra, it’s a pretty special feeling.”
Budzynski said he is most excited about the musical scores in “Mixed Repertoire #1: Western Symphony.” This first production for the 2015 to 2016 ballet season, opening on Oct. 23, will be featuring three different ballets, all of them unique in their own way.
“Sinfonietta,” Budzynski said, is the purest and grandest of the three while “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated” has great physicality with “legs flying up all over the place.” The repertoire finishes up with “Western Symphony,” a more lighthearted ballet with well-known American tunes.
“The [show] is an amazing first grouping of performances,” Budzynski said.
Kochis is most excited about the choreography.
“Everyone should know about the top-tier choreography productions that we are putting on, starting with this first one coming up,” Kochis said. “I really, really hope that people come see these shows, because I am so excited to be performing them, and I think that anyone who comes is going to come away with amazing inspiration and just images in their head that will be with them for a lifetime.”