Fox Chapel resident climbing ladder of theatrical success

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Casey Taylor remembers the first time she took the stage as a seven-year-old dancer in “The Nutcracker.”

“It was so fun,” said the Fox Chapel resident of her turn as a youth dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.

“I wasn't nervous. I was skipping around, looking at the professionals.”

At 22, her role with the theater company has evolved — stomach butterflies do most of the twirling now as Taylor performs precisely choreographed routines where skill sets involve more than plies and arabesques.

“It's kind of surreal,” said the Fox Chapel Area alum of being hired by the 42-year-old ballet company. “Performing with the group I grew up with is special.”

Taylor made her homecoming this season, first with “Giselle,” and then with “The Nutcracker,” the holiday classic featuring Gingerbread soldiers, dancing mice and sugar plum fairies.

Taylor juggled multiple roles in the E.T.A. Hoffman play, bringing to life a snowflake, a flower, shepherdess, party host, Chinese Tea performer and a spring-activated doll.

“The audience usually likes the doll,” she said. “There's a lot of magic in the party scene.”

There's a lot of magic is Taylor's pace as well.

With 19 performances over the holidays, and quick-changes that for some scenes involve ornate costumes and makeup, the dancer had to keep an upbeat tempo matched only by the show's Tchaikovsky score.

“It's very exciting to perform and give something back with this level of artistry,” she said.

The moves are technically demanding, Taylor admits, and she feels the nerves every time. But it's all part of moving up in rank too.

The featured performances like the Arabian Dancer or the Sugar Plum Fairy are reserved for those who have paid the dues and can meet the task.

“It's my first year and I feel like I have some great parts,” she said. “But I hope to do those someday.”

These productions mark the first time Taylor was featured on stage at The Benedum Center since graduating from the PBT Graduate Program, led by Artistic Director Terrence Orr and one of the country's finest schools for dance training.

Taylor was accepted into the Pacific Northwest Ballet program in Seattle, where she danced for two years professionally while all the while auditioning for a position closer to home.

Her graceful moves have taken her even farther from home, too. She danced “Swan Lake” in Germany as part of that company before landing one of 27 positions with the PBT last summer.

“It feels great to be close to family again,” she said.

With just one week off, Taylor enjoyed some down time at her parents' home in Fox Chapel working on some of her other passions — cooking and baking.

She returned to her leotard this week for “Moulin Rouge” rehearsals, up next in February. The show is a stark contrast to the childhood wonder of “The Nutcracker,” with its showcase of love and allure at a French cabaret.

Two shows follow in spring, “Unspoken,” and “Cinderella.”

Taylor feels like she is truly home, she said.

Her years of a strict regime — school, rehearsal hall, homework, sleep — and forsaking teenage hangouts and free time, were worth it.

“I knew pretty early that it was for me,” she said. “For anyone who is considering it, I say keep sticking to it. It's a lot of work, but it pays off.”

Tawnya Panizzi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-782-2121, ext. 2 or at

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