Griffin Sendek | multimedia editor
Pittsburgh Ballet Theater captivated a live audience in the Carnegie Museum of Art over Valentine’s Day weekend, in a brief, yet strikingly beautiful 15-minute performance.
Boléro, both the title of the show and the music piece chosen, was first open to Pittsburgh Ballet Theater (PBT) subscribers with each live performance limited to 25 people. Included with the tickets were passes to the rest of the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History.
Within the Carnegie Museum of Art, the showcase took place in the Hall of Sculpture — a stark, yet elegant white marble room bordered by large marble statues along the second level balcony. Not only was this room gorgeous in its own right, but surprisingly well-equipped for hosting a socially-distanced performance.
The audience, masked, stood spread out among the sculptures as the dancers performed on the floor below.
This setting made for an angle of viewing that is uncommon and in most cases impossible in a traditional theater. Witnessing the show from above was a new and unique experience that afforded the artistic director and choreographer, Susan Jaffe, to develop something truly unique.
While the show was safely distanced, this was still a far closer look at the dancers than most audiences would ever get the chance to see back at the Benedum Center. Being able to see the subtle movements and expressions of the dancers, even though their masks, was a key element to Boléro.
The men were dressed in pitch black jumpsuits, followed by the women in a deep red. The costume’s contrast with the bright white floor was absolute, helping to create impeccably striking images and movements within the choreography.
The main feature of the show was by far its soloists and duet couples. With Boléro being a Valentine’s Day special, the heavy emphasis on the duets made fit perfectly. The couples continuously glided across the marble floor intertwined like lovers. They performed with sensuality and power. The show was romantic: evocative of love without being cutesy.
The way PBT’s men lift their partners through the air as if they were as light as a feather is always a sight to behold and was on full display in Boléro.
The Hall of Sculpture not only had an impact on the viewing of the performance, but heavily influenced the choreography as well. The smooth marble floors were far too slippery for the dancers to wear their traditional pointe shoes and ballet flats; instead, they were in tennis shoes. The change of footwear didn’t diminish the quality of dance, but rather inspired different choices made with the steps performed.
The show was but a brief 15 minutes, but didn’t feel short: The performance was completely enrapturing as the music continuously built to a crescendo and subsequent fiery finale. As the dancers scrambled off the floor and the speakers blared their last note, the show had come to a worthwhile and satisfying conclusion.
There was no room for excess in Boléro; every choice with the choreography needed to be deliberate and necessary, and that was presently clear with every step the dancers took.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theater has done well to adapt to the pandemic – from keeping their dancers conditioned with Zoom rehearsals through the summer, prerecorded online showcases and building outdoor stages, PBT has found ways to keep the art of ballet alive in the city.
Boléro, however, is a new first for PBT through COVID. Previous shows remained within small groups, mainly consisting of duets or groups no greater than five. Boléro consisted of 14 dancers: two soloists, three couples, three ladies, and three gentlemen. Dancing in groups and in front of audiences is such a crucial piece of what makes ballet, ballet, and has been so deeply missed by the dancers of PBT.
Though this show is still far different than anything PBT had produced in previous years, company-member Christian Garcia Campos described performing in Boléro as a refreshing return to form.
“It was definitely such a rush. After the first performance and we were like bowing to the audience; I definitely felt teary-eyed” Garcia Campos said. “I definitely could feel that audience was also excited to be watching a show again.”
The open-standing setting of the audience area allowed for a little girl to do what all little girls must dream of when watching the ballet. No longer confined to a seat; she had room to dance and sway her red and black checkered dress back and forth, blissfully daydreaming of being a ballerina just like the dancers below.
Eventually, the girl’s mother put a stop to her daughters dancing out of fear of the girl being a distraction. Slight distraction it may have been, but an endearing moment all the same that proves the magical moment’s art like Boléro can create.