Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Susan Jaffe opens-up about ‘Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts’

Amanda Cochrane. Photo by Kelly Perkovich.

By Steve Sucato

One of the first things new Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Susan Jaffe did in the job beginning the summer of 2020, was oversee the purchase of a portable outdoor stage. It was acquired to give the company more options in performing around the region especially in these pandemic times, but also to provide a means for PBT to bring their art to communities that could not necessarily come to them.

After a successful limited run of its Open Air series performances last September using the stage, PBT is bringing it back in a big way May 18-21 with Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts. The company will be joined by some 20 local performing arts organizations for two weeks of music, theater, and dance at Schenley Park’s Flagstaff Hill.  I talked with former American Ballet Theatre star Jaffe these upcoming Open Air performances.  

Steve Sucato: In purchasing PBT’s outdoor stage, was it always your plan to include other area performing arts organizations in your ongoing Open Air series?
Susan Jaffe: Our portable stage was $800,000 to purchase and was paid for through foundations. Many of the ones in Pittsburgh really wanted this [the stage purchase] to be an opportunity for PBT to reach out into the arts community and give them opportunities to perform. It is also a means for us to bring our stage to communities that could not necessarily come to us.

SS: What does PBT’s participation in this month’s Open Air look like?
SJ: We are doing 8 performances. Our school is doing 3 performances including a fundraiser and our orchestra is doing 2 performances.

SS: I understand the company is doing two different 75-minute programs for this latest series, what is on them?
SJ: Pittsburgh native Gina Patterson is doing a new solo about Auguste Rodin’s muse, sculptor Camille Claudel. We will be doing a pas de deux by “firecracker” Annabelle Lopez Ochoa called Lacrimosa, and one by Aszure Barton called Awáa, a stunning pas de deux by Sasha Janes called Loss that is about a man and a woman who lost their child before birth, a new male duet by PBT principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano, my Bolero, excerpts from Don Quixote, La Bayadére, Raymonda, The Sleeping Beauty and more. (Full schedule/program info. below)

SS: It is quite a line-up, why these choreographers, many of whom are new to PBT and Pittsburgh audiences?
SJ: I like to hire people that inspire me, and I am inspired by all of them.

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz. Photo by Kelly Perkovich.

SS: Beyond PBT’s offerings, how many openings were there for other performing arts organizations to participate?
SJ: We had approximately 3 time slots per day which could be filled by other groups.

SS: What was the process in choosing the other performing arts organizations participating in Open Air?
SJ: We reached out first to the constituents in our vicinity like Attack Theatre, Hope Academy and Lemington Gospel Choir and asked them if they would like to come and perform. From there we reached out farther, and the list grew.

SS: How are you pricing tickets for PBT’s shows?
SJ: We have tired ticket levels (chairs provided). VIP tickets are $65/person for one program and $100/person for both; Preferred seating is $55/person for one program and $75/person for both; Standard seating is $45/person for one and $65/person for both; and then furthest back from the stage is [reserved] lawn seating where you can put down your own blanket and watch for free. NOTE: PBT will not be selling tickets for other organizations’ shows. Those will be available through each organization’s website.

SS: How are you handling state-mandated COVID-19 protocols?
SJ: The provided chairs will be in 10’ X 10’ pods, we will also have sanitation stations and mask wearing and social distancing will be enforced.

Diana Yohe and Joseph Parr. Photo by Kelly Perkovich.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Open Air: A Series in Celebration of the Performing Arts Performance Dates/Times:

  • May 20, 2021 at 8:15 p.m. – Program A
  • May 21, 2021 at 8:15 p.m. – Program B
  • May 22, 2021 at 7:15 p.m. – Program A
  • May 23, 2021 at 6 p.m. – Program B
  • May 27, 2021 at 8:15 p.m. – Program A
  • May 29, 2021 at 8:15 p.m. – Program B
  • May 30, 2021 at 2: 30 p.m. – Program A
  • May 30, 2021 at 7:15 p.m. – Program B 

Program Information:

Program A: 

  • Jewels – The Sleeping Beauty
  • Full pas de deux – The Sleeping Beauty
  • A Frame of Mind by PBT Principal Dancer Yoshiaki Nakano
  • Pas de deux – Flower Festival
  • Trinity Bust: Sculptor. Clay. Muse. by Gina Patterson
  • White Swan pas de deux – Swan Lake
  • Lacrimosa by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
  • Boléro by Susan Jaffe

Program B: 

  • Grand Pas Hongrois – Raymonda
  • Ladies corps de ballet – Raymonda
  • Loss by Sasha Janes
  • Act II adagio – La Bayadére
  • Lacrimosa by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
  • Awáa by Aszure Barton
  • Pas de deux – Don Quixote
  • Boléro by Susan Jaffe

Visit pbt.org/openair for a complete list of participating groups and additional schedule information.