Dancers with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre headed back to the studio a bit sooner this summer to prepare for a pre-season performance, but it won't take place at the Benedum, Byham or any of the troupe's other regular venues.
This week, the company will present a mixed repertoire program in Israel at the 25th annual Karmiel Dance Festival, which will feature about 5,000 dancers from across the world. The trip will mark the first time PBT has toured overseas in nearly 20 years.
"We're very excited about it," artistic director Terrence Orr said.
The opportunity evolved from a conversation between PBT executive director Harris Ferris and Zipora Gur, founder and executive director of Classrooms Without Borders, a nonprofit organization with ties to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and The Holocaust Center. A friend of PBT, she mentioned to Mr. Ferris the dance festival and put him in touch with one of its organizers.
PBT was formally asked in December to participate in the festival in Karmiel. It also will perform in Rishon LeZion.
Despite the company's lengthy hiatus from performing outside the country, board members and other friends of PBT enthusiastically supported the invitation, Mr. Ferris said. Furthermore, Karmiel is Pittsburgh's sister city as part of the Partnership2Gether, a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Jewish Agency for Israel. But traveling internationally carries its own challenges.
"Touring as a business model does not add to the bottom line," Mr. Ferris said. "PBT wasn't healthy enough to tour up until recently." The last performance abroad was in Taiwan under the artistic directorship of Patricia Wilde. To cover travel expenses, dancers' salaries, labor and other costs, the organization has been fundraising and to date has about $90,000, Mr. Ferris said. The goal is $150,000. The Charles M. Morris Charitable Trust, the Fine Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Giant Eagle Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour and Dunmoyle Capital Advisors are some of the major contributors, in addition to individual donors.
Leading up to its departure, PBT has been striving to immerse its members in Israeli culture. It organized last spring a cultural orientation day at its Strip District headquarters where dancers learned about the country's history, politics and geography, and took part in an Israeli folk dance master class with artists from the Spirit of Israel teen delegation. Outside of rehearsals, some dancers have been taking additional steps to acquaint themselves with the country.
"It has so many religious ties there. It's unique in that way, so I've been doing some reading on my own," soloist Eva Trapp said.
PBT also has drawn upon contacts within Pittsburgh's Jewish community and experiences it gained in 2009 when it staged "Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project," a balletic look at a Holocaust survivor's journey from normalcy to genocide to redemption.
"It's definitely something that's going to be in the back of my mind when performing," Ms. Trapp said. "Not that you can ever actually understand what people went through or feel what they felt, [but] it gave us a glimpse of what it might have been like."
The program PBT has planned will showcase works by three modern masters of American ballet and contemporary movement: "Step Touch" by Dwight Rhoden, "Maelstrom" by Mark Morris and George Balanchine's "Sylvia Pas de Deux." Mr. Morris' piece, set to Beethoven, will be performed with live music.
"I think they're all pretty wonderful. They go together as a very different kind of program," Mr. Orr said.
"I think it really gives a good picture of what depth we really have," Ms. Trapp said.
The chance for PBT to display its talents on an international stage holds several benefits, Mr. Ferris said.
"Every time we do an artistic project that stands out, new doors open," such as attracting the interest of other festivals or choreographers. "Suddenly you're on the radar of companies that are out there, and that's what we want to do, is extend ourselves more visibly."
Israel also will be a platform for dancers to strengthen their artistry, as well as their relationships with audiences in Pittsburgh.
"Your muscles get stronger by flexing them, using them," Mr. Ferris said. The dancers "grow as artists. That only then becomes reflected back to what they're delivering to our audiences."