Great Dane performs in 'Giselle' ballet

At 175 pounds, Ellie Mae is by far the biggest ballerina to set foot on the Benedum stage this weekend when Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre stages the classic romantic ballet “Giselle.” The 5-year-old Great Dane  accompanies dancers into the woods in the hunt scene early in the production.

Ellie Mae is technically homeless. For nine months, she has lived in a temporary foster home chosen by Pennsylvania Great Dane Rescue and will stay there until someone adopts her.

“We thought this would be a nice way to put rescue dogs in the spotlight,” said Meghan Swartz, associate director of communications at PBT.

Ellie Mae and the rescue group also have a blurb in the “Giselle” program.

When ballet company officials decided they wanted a dog in the cast, they contacted Jean Matvey, president of Pennsylvania Great Dane Rescue. There are currently 26 purebreds and Dane mixes in foster care. Mrs. Matvey said she picked Ellie Mae because she is a low-key and well-behaved dog. She knows all her commands  “and like the majority of Great Danes is very social and loves people.”  

She’s also good with other dogs, cats and children, said Mrs. Matvey, who with her husband Thomas cares for Ellie Mae and 12 other dogs at their home in Baden, Beaver County. 

“Giselle” isn’t Ellie Mae’s first public appearance. She’s been in several parades and enjoyed the attention, Mrs. Matvey said.

Ellie Mae is a striking on-stage presence; she’s brindle with black and brown tiger-like stripes.

“I bought her a white  tutu and a tiara” to get in the mood for “Giselle” and to wear at two rehearsals, said Mrs. Matvey, who is backstage while a dancer leads the leashed dog into the woods. “Giselle” opened Friday and continues tonight and Sunday (

Since 2008, Pennsylvania Great Dane Rescue has taken in 1,500 dogs. Adoption fees are $275 for mixed breeds, which Mrs. Matvey says are harder to place, and $300-$400 for purebreds. Go to to see available dogs.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064.