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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre takes steps to bolster program

| Thursday, April 16, 2015, 11:56 p.m.
A rendering of the new Pittsburgh Ballet headquarters with a planned 14,000-square-foot annex
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
A rendering of the new Pittsburgh Ballet headquarters with a planned 14,000-square-foot annex
Students at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre school
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Students at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre school

As it concludes eight successive years of balanced budgets and its 45th season, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is announcing a $20 million campaign for a bigger, even healthier future.

The public announcement of the campaign at the company's April 16 anniversary gala follows the “quiet” part of the campaign, which has raised $13.6 million, just over two-thirds of the goal.

The campaign's three core strategies are to expand the company's campus in the Strip District and Lawrenceville, establish an Innovation Fund to advance artistic priorities and grow the $8 million endowment by 50 percent. The budget for 2014-15 is $9.6 million.

“As we draw strength and reassurance by looking at our past at the gala honoring our founders Nicolas Petrov and Loti Falk, at the same time we are embarking on the next chapter,” says executive director Harris Ferris.

“This has been a joint effort, for sure, from our earliest strategic planning with the board,” Ferris says.

“The ballet is certainly in a lot better shape today than it was 10 years ago when we were in the doldrums,” says artistic director Terrence Orr. “Now, the timing is good. The organization has made a turnaround, and the country's economy has, too.”

The big piece of the campus expansion will be a 14,000-square-foot annex to the headquarters building in the Strip District, which will be named for campaign co-chairs Carolyn and Bill Byham. It will house two expansive dance studios, additional cross-training facilities, communal changing rooms and study areas for full-time high-school and graduate students. Groundbreaking for the $6.5 million annex is scheduled for this summer.

Additional rehearsal space will allow the ballet school to accept more students. The school currently trains about 1,000 young dancers per year. The company expects a 40 percent increase in student population over the next three years.

The campaign goal includes a $2 million reserve fund for building maintenance and improvement.

The $3.4 million Innovation Fund will support staging of masterworks, commissioning new choreography and investing in sets and costumes without raising ticket prices or cutting productions. It will support live orchestral performance of some main-stage productions and school scholarships for promising young dancers.

“It's a very exciting time for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre to be able to exert our leadership in the dance world,” Orr says. He credits a lot of the artistic success to the quality of dancers the company is attracting to the school and the company.

“We're talking again about international touring,” he says. “We've been invited and hope some of these things will happen.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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