Dance Circle lecture to cover process of choosing, training young dancers


Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre students Saya Tanishiki and Bradley Wong pose during a performance of “Paquita.” Photo courtesy of Aimee DiAndrea.

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

Carolyn Byham is hopeful about the future of ballet.

“I think people are getting more and more interested in dance,” she said.

She would know.

As a former president and current member of the board of trustees to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Byham studies and observes dance consistently.

So in a lecture at 3:30 p.m. today at Smith Wilkes Hall, Byham and the co-directors of the PBT School, Marjorie Grundvig and Dennis Marshall, will discuss the “Selection and Development of Young Ballet Students.” The lecture is programmed by the Chautauqua Dance Circle.

These three know this topic from years of watching PBT educate young ballerinas and danseurs. Byham said Grundvig and Marshall will discuss the selection process, and she’ll give the audience background on the PBT School as well as on her involvement in the school’s development. Two dancers from the school will perform part of a recent student presentation, and a brief Q-and-A will follow the lecture.

PBT is a bit different from Chautauqua’s resident dance company, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Byham said, although Grundvig did dance with NCDT at age 17. The PBT School is separate from the actual company, but roughly half of those who go through the school eventually end up there. It’s a neoclassical ballet school, offering classes for children age 1 and up.

But its Pre-Professional Division is its “keystone,” Byham said.

The Pre-Professional Division is split into the high school and graduate programs.

Roughly 95 percent of students that go through the Graduate Program are offered contracts and apprenticeships around the country, one of the many things about PBT Byham said she is proud of.

During her time as president of the board of trustees, she took a special interest in the students’ development both inside and outside the PBT School. She asked the students from the Pre-Professional program to perform during a trustees meeting. After they danced, the students gave a little of their background.

Byham said she then learned that the 14- to 16-year-olds were living in apartments and being cyber-schooled.

“I said, ‘This can’t be,’” Byham said.

Concerned for the students’ safety, Byham and her husband set up housing. The Byham House, an old rectory, is now a dorm just five blocks from the school with a chef and a dorm mother.

“We all feel a lot more comfortable,” she said.

Byham has supported the arts for years in a variety of ways, she said. For her, it’s personal.

Her husband, William, proposed to her outside the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts on the opening night of the Metropolitan Opera; she lived in New York City during the height of the Balanchine era; and she and William recently went to see a ballet in Germany.

She said she loves the way dance can capture and hold her attention, but more than that, she loves “the beauty, the sensitivity, the emotion and the romanticism.”

The Chautauqua Dance Circle hosts topical lectures each week.  All lectures are free and are one hour in length.