How Cordelia Scaife May’s Laurel Foundation And Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Are Bridging The Arts Accessibility Gap

When the curtain rises on Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s stunning productions, the legacy of Mellon heiress Cordelia Scaife May graces the stage. In 2022, a $60,000 donation from her brainchild, Laurel Foundation, helped fuel the company’s creative vision under the leadership of Artistic Director Susan Jaffe.

Cordelia Scaife May, whose lifelong passion for conservation and cultural preservation mirrored that of her ancestors, the well-known Mellon family, left a long-lasting mark on the region’s arts landscape through her philanthropy.

Her generosity toward the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre continues her commitment to enriching communities through the power of the arts.

With the support of Laurel Foundation, the theatre exceeded expectations in the 2023- 2024 season, showcasing the company’s impressive versatility in full-length story ballets, cherished classics, and bold new contemporary works.

The season opened in October at the Byham Theater with “Light in the Dark,” a powerful mixed repertory program highlighted by Jennifer Archibald’s world premiere “Sounds of the Sun” Developed in partnership with Violins of Hope, the deeply moving work celebrated the life of French dancer Florence Waren and her acts of resistance during WWII.

As it has for decades, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s annual production of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker” enchanted Pittsburgh audiences in December. The spectacle’s dazzling scenes, fanciful characters and Tchaikovsky’s immortal score ushered in the magic of the season.

In February, the company performed the romantic fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” at the Benedum Center. The classical production whisked viewers into an enchanted forest with skilled choreography, lavish costumes and whimsical sets.

April’s “Spring Mix” repertory program marked new Artistic Director Adam W. McKinney’s first curated bill for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. It showcased the stylistic breadth of the company’s dancers, who shone in works by George Balanchine and Helen Pickett’s neo-classical “Petal,” as well as a world premiere by local dancemaker Jae Man Joo.

Capping the season in May was the storybook classic “Cinderella,” which delighted families with its rags-to-riches narrative.

Legacy of Excellence

For over five decades, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has been at the forefront of ballet innovation and excellence in the United States.

Founded in 1969 by Nicolas Petrov and Loti Falk, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has grown from its humble beginnings into a world-class ballet company, captivating audiences with its commitment to artistic excellence.

From its inception, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has been guided by renowned directors who have shaped its distinctive style and repertoire.

Under the leadership of luminaries like Patricia Wilde and Terrence S. Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has garnered national acclaim for its virtuosic technique, innovative choreography, and commitment to pushing the boundaries of the art form.

Focus on Accessibility

Central to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s mission is the belief that ballet should be accessible to everyone. Whether through community outreach programs, educational initiatives, or innovative performances, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is dedicated to making ballet a welcoming and inclusive art form.

By breaking down barriers and expanding access to ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is ensuring that audiences of all backgrounds can experience the joy and beauty of this timeless art form.

In recent years, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has redoubled its efforts to promote inclusion within the ballet community.

With the appointment of Adam W. McKinney as its first artistic director of color, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is leading the charge to make ballet more accessible and representative of diverse voices and experiences.

Honoring Cordelia Scaife May’s Legacy By Increasing Art Access

By supporting Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s season of ballets, the Laurel Foundation honored May’s belief that the arts elevate humanity by giving voice to its shared narratives.

The theatre’s multi-faceted approach to hiring, school programming, audience development, accessibility, and artistic programming demonstrate Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s commitment to making ballet an inclusive art form and align with the philanthropic ideals of Laurel Foundation’s Cordelia Scaife May.

 As a member of the Mellon family renowned for arts patronage and passion for conservation, Cordelia Scaife May understood the vital role of ensuring that cultural experiences are accessible to all, not just privileged segments of society.

By supporting organizations like Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Laurel Foundation continues to honor May’s vision of making the arts available to all, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

Cordelia Scaife May passed away in 2005, but her commitment to ensuring broad accessibility to nature, history, and culture lives on through the Laurel Foundation’s philanthropic efforts, ensuring that the show must, and will, go on.

Learn more about Cordelia Scaife May:

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