Dancers On Tour: Pittsburgh in Tel Aviv, Day II

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is currently on tour in Israel to perform in the 25th anniversary of Karmiel Dance Festival. Principal dancer Alexandra Kochis is guest blogging about the experience for Pointe.

 

Our second day in Israel dawned sunny and beautiful. After breakfast, most of the company hit the beach to enjoy the bathwater warm Mediterranean waters. With the many domes and minarets adorning the horizon, it's such a different beach vista than I'm used to. Afterwards, it was time to travel to Karmiel, the site of the festival, to take class and rehearse. I always find the trips to destinations almost as much fun as the destinations themselves when you're in a new country. At times the hillsides of northern Israel reminded me a lot of the Northern California landscape, perhaps with a few more olive trees. The festival site was bustling with many different types of music broadcast over the speakers. There is quite a vibe of excitement buzzing around this quiet little town in anticipation of the festival. It felt good to stretch the muscles after all that traveling.

 

After rehearsal, the company ventured out to see some of the local sites. We had the bus drop us near the center of the "Old Town" of Acre and wandered around the maze of stone streets and alleyways. It was quite magical—the sun was beginning to set over a beautifully tranquil Mediterranean Sea and as we started the walk along the parapets of the ancient fortress walls we could hear the Muslim evening call to pray echo off the stone walls and archways of the ancient city. Never, in all my travels, have I truly felt like I was someplace so different from my everyday existence.  

 

We ate at one of the various restaurants lining the harbor. The fresh, flavorful cuisine was a crowdpleaser: ceviche, shrimp with saffron and artichokes and fluffy pillows of potato gnocci in porcini mushroom sauce. The area thrives late into the night with even families coming out hours past sunset. It's on trips like these that you realize how different we all are and yet how the similar—in the pulse of a drum beat, in a child's squeal of excitement as he jumps over an ocean wave and in a shared experience beyond words and conveyed by a smile.
Ballet Careers
Sisters Isabella Shaker and Alexandra Pullen. Photo Courtesy Alexandra Pullen.

This is the second in a series of articles this month about ballet siblings.

My mom was in the corps de ballet at American Ballet Theatre. A generation later, so was I. As if that's not enough for one family, my younger sister Isabella Shaker dreams of following in our dancing footsteps. Her endeavor, and her status as somewhat of a child prodigy, stirs feelings of pride and apprehension within me, since I have lived through the ups and downs of this intense yet rewarding career.

Ballet will always be my first love and the thing that brings me the most joy, and my dance career has opened endless opportunities for me. However, it's a difficult career path that requires a lifelong dedication. It's super competitive and can lead to body image issues, physical injury and stress. Most dancers will face some of these problems; I definitely dealt with all three.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

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Ballet Stars
Photo by Jayme Thornton

It's National Bullying Prevention Month—and Houston Ballet breakout star Harper Watters is exactly the advocate young dancers facing bullying need. Watters is no novice when it comes to slaying on social media, but his Bullying Prevention Month collaboration with Teen Vogue and Instagram is him at his most raw, speaking about his own experiences with bullies, and how his love of dance helped him to overcome adversity. Watters even penned an incredible op-ed for Teen Vogue's website, where he talks candidly about growing up queer. Catch his amazing anti-bullying video here—and, as Watters says, "Stay fabulous, stay flawless, stay flexible, but most importantly, stay fearless."

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News
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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