Dancers on Tour: Pittsburgh Performs in Israel

Day three in Israel was a busy one! We had an early bus call to Karmiel to explore and get something to eat before class. The area was like an upscale suburb in the States with tree-lined streets of shops and little gardens. Most of the signage was in Hebrew so it was hard to tell what each store held until you peered inside. My favorites were the small, locally-owned shops with delicious smells of fresh-baked bread wafting through the doorways and fruits and vegetables piled high.


After, we took class, my husband and I had a radio interview with a station back home in Pittsburgh, and we did a short rehearsal. Then we took a look around the festival. There's a large bazaar set up in what is normally a soccer field with tents hawking everything from cheap sunglasses (Ray Dons!) and air chairs to hand-made jewelery and clothing. I think Eva Trapp won the best souvenier award with a gorgeous hammered silver necklace. Dance truly takes center stage here. Several former tennis courts are cordoned off for public dancing. We had another radio interview, this one with the Israeli army radio, a popular station here and a whole audience of onlookers was snapping photos outside the window of the trailer from which the show was being broadcast! One of our docents, Maya told us that many people from the Karmiel area return home to catch up with family and old friends during the festival since everyone comes. The festival worked it's reunification magic on us as well when we bumped into an old friend whom we had danced with in Boston Ballet 15 years ago! He was now dancing with a company in France that is also performing at the festival. It was so strange to come upon a familiar face so many miles from home.


Various local dance groups led a parade through the streets. A lot were dressed in folk costumes and were singing and chanting. When the sun went down around 9 pm, we watched the opening performances of the festival in an outdoor amphitheater under the stars. Around 8,000 people were scattered across the vast lawn on blankets and chairs—young and old, families and couples, dancers and non-dancers. The show opened with a high-energy contemporary piece with a folk dance flavor. There must have been at least 60 dancers on the stage, all moving in unison to live music.  


Yesterday, our first performance day, we met the mayor. Pittsburgh and Karmiel have been building a cultural relationship as sister cities for the past 12 years. We arrived at the beautiful, modern municipal building and were escorted upstairs and into a wood-paneled boardroom where the mayor welcomed us. We also met many people responsible for coordinating our tour and various Jewish cultural foundations. Everyone was friendly and you could tell that they were extremely proud of their town. We learned that Karmiel was only founded 47 years ago, but the mayor felt it could be a model for all of Israel with it's history of peaceful coexistence with the neighboring Arab villages. After lunch, it was to class at the studio and then our first look at the theater. There had been a performance by the Brazilian ballet company just before our rehearsal and the crew and production staff were scrambling to get our lights and cues hung and programed before our rehearsal and performance at 8 that night. Then they were going to have to break that down and re-set the Brazilians set-up once again for a 10pm show!


The rehearsal was the first time we got to hear the two Israeli musicians who were going to be accompanying our company pianist Yoland Collin in playing Beethoven's "Ghost Trio" for Mark Morris' Maelstrom that was the first on our program. It sounded amazing.


What a performance it was! All the dancers were especially energized to be here, thousands of miles from home, in PBT's first international tour in decades. The audience responded with generous applause and they were quick to start clapping along with the music during Dwight Roden's Step Touch. The end of the show brought many curtain calls. It was a tremendous kick off. 
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
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."

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less