Dancing in Holy Land

Dancing in Holy Land

The last time the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre toured overseas was in 1994, when it performed the full-length ballet “Romeo and Juliet” in Taiwan.

Now, 18 years later, the PBT is preparing to again travel abroad, this time to Israel.

The PBT will be performing the ballet “Step Touch” this August at the 25th annual Karmiel Dance Festival. Karmiel and the Misgav region are Pittsburgh’s sister communities.

The upcoming performances in Israel are the result of opportunity converging with strategy, according to Harris Ferris, the PBT’s executive director.

“The company is good, and we want it to be seen,” Ferris said. When the opportunity arose to perform in Israel, the PBT had already marked touring as a priority in its strategic plan. And touring was financially feasible, he said, because the company has become more fiscally stable in the last five years.

“We want to get the most out of this company,” said Ferris. “And, when you tie this in with the region’s desire to be seen as a cultural capital of the world, we, along with the symphony, have a responsibility to be an ambassador.”

Ferris said he was first approached by Zipora Gur, executive director of Classrooms Without Borders, with the idea of the PBT performing in Israel at the dance festival, which attracts more than 5,000 dancers, and over 300,000 visitors, each year from Israel and throughout the world.

“Tsipy has been a good friend of the ballet, and has brought students from abroad to see productions,” Ferris said. “She is friends with Aharon Solomon, the general director of the Karmiel Festival, and she talked us up to them.

“The timing was right, with the dance festival celebrating its 25th anniversary, and Karmiel being Pittsburgh’s sister city,” he continued. “Opportunity met strategy.”

In addition to performing in Karmiel, the PBT will also dance in Haifa, Rishon and Tel Aviv as part of the festival.

This will be the first trip to Israel for many, if not all, of the PBT’s dancers, Ferris said, and they will have a briefing session next week, led by Gur, offering cultural tips and a taste of Israeli cuisine.

“Step Touch,” choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, is set to a dozen songs of the doo-wop era, including “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “Magic Moment,” and “Under the Boardwalk.” It is a fast-paced, contemporary ballet.

“They [the directors of the festival] specifically wanted something that reflects our contemporary works,” Ferris said. “The choreographer of ‘Step Touch’ uses the classical language of ballet to veer off in contemporary ways. And doo-wop is very American. We liked being able to bring some of the wonderful standards to the stage. These are songs that were sung by The Drifters and others.”

The tour is supported, in part, by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which supports partnership with Karmiel and Misgav through the Partnership2Gether (P2G) program.

“We’re obviously very excited about it,” said Deborah Baron, vice president of operations for the federation. “The P2G program is all about making people to people connections between people in Pittsburgh and people in Karmiel/Misgav. This is really exciting because it is extending those connections beyond the Jewish community.”

The Jewish Agency for Israel co-sponsors P2G.

This is not the first time the PBT has partnered with the Pittsburgh Jewish community on an artistic project. “Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project” was a cooperative effort in 2009, resulting in a groundbreaking ballet, and a series of artistic and intellectual endeavors designed to spark a community conversation about the horrors of the Holocaust.

“We have maintained a lot of the friendships we forged with ‘Light,’ ” Ferris said. “Touring to Pittsburgh’s own sister city of Karmiel, Israel, speaks on an even larger scale to the powerful role the arts can play in forging cross-cultural connections. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has been instrumental in building this international partnership, and it will be a privilege to represent a part of the Pittsburgh arts community in Israel this summer.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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