The Karmiel Dance Festival does not begin until August, but the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has already begun preparing for its first trip as a company to Israel.
On Tuesday, April 24, the PBT hosted an Israeli cultural orientation at its studios for company dancers, students and staff. The orientation included a slide show narrated by Leehee Kanne, community shlicha (emissary) from Tel Aviv, and a question-answer session with panelists Zipora Gur of Classrooms Without Borders, and Yoav Kaddar, assistant professor of dance at West Virginia University.
Meyer Grinberg, co-chair of Partnership 2Gether, and Sue Linzer, senior manager of overseas operations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, were also on hand to answer questions about Israel in general, and the PBT’s upcoming trip in particular.
“Why are we going to Israel?” posed Harris Ferris, the PBT’s executive director, at the commencement of the orientation. “To prove we can.”
“We’re excited, our broader communities are excited, and today is about getting you excited,” he told the dancers.
The PBT will be performing the ballet “Step Touch” this summer at the 25th annual dance festival hosted by Karmiel, Pittsburgh’s sister city. In addition to performing in Karmiel, the PBT will also dance in Haifa, Rishon and Tel Aviv as part of the festival.
Kanne gave the dancers a glimpse into Israeli life — the country’s “casual” atmosphere, its geography and the diverse cultural mix of its population.
Kaddar recounted the history of the Karmiel Dance Festival, from its humble beginnings in a field before Israeli statehood, to its status today as “almost the Woodstock of dance,” with more than 5,000 dancers and 300,000 visitors from around the world.
“Now, international groups come to share the beauty and the richness of the art,” Kaddar said of the festival. “It’s thriving. It goes on 24/7. Karmiel is basically taken over by dancers.”
“Dance is everywhere around you in Israel,” he continued. “People are hungry for it. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful reception.”
The Spirit of Israel teen delegation — 10 teenage singers and dancers from Karmiel — was also on hand to perform two short dances. Following that performance, Kaddar taught the PBT dancers a few steps during an Israeli folk dance master class.
The afternoon concluded with a traditional Israeli meal, featuring falafel.
The enthusiasm of the dancers to travel to Israel was palpable.
“I’m super excited to be going,” said Julia Erickson, principal dancer for the PBT. “Dancers sometimes live in an insular world. The more we can be educated about such a special place, like Israel, the more we can fully take part in the cultural experiences.
“I’m excited to share in the cross-cultural celebration of dance,” she continued. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for the company and it’s great that we can be ambassadors for Pittsburgh, too. We want to share what we do.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)