News - May 7, 2008

Ex-ballerina hosts South African dancers

'Dance for All' will perform at Stanford University on May 13

by Barbara Wood

When Woodside's Kristine Elliott Schwabacher heard about Dance For All, a program that teaches dance to young disadvantaged South African township residents, she knew she had found a cause she could throw her heart into.

Ms. Elliott is a former professional ballerina who now teaches at Stanford University. Several years ago, when she saw Stanford student Kristin Pichaske's film, "Gugulethu Ballet," a documentary about Dance for All, Ms. Elliott saw a way to use her talent for doing good.

Since then, Ms. Elliott has traveled to South Africa five times to teach for Dance for All. She has also raised money to bring back four of the Dance for All dancers who lived with her family in Woodside while attending summer programs at the San Francisco Academy of Ballet.

Now, Dance for All will perform at Stanford on Tuesday, May 13, with Stanford's A Cappella Talisman. Talisman's internationally known singers' repertoire includes songs from many cultures, including some in the native Xhosa language of South Africa.

The Dance for All dancers will then travel to Vancouver, British Columbia, to perform in an event called "Diversity in the Arts."

The performance at Stanford will be a reunion of sorts for the two groups, who met when Talisman performed in South Africa and had a serendipitous meeting and collaboration with Dance For All.

The Stanford performance is in the Roble Dance Studio, 375 Santa Theresa St., at 7:30 pm. It is free and will be followed by a reception to meet the artists.

During her most recent trip to South Africa, in April, Ms. Elliott arranged for Darrell Grand Moultrie, a Harlem-born black choreographer, to go with her. Ms. Elliott said she felt Mr. Moultrie would be a great role model for the students.

"Darrell was masterful when he was there," she said. While in South Africa, Mr. Moultrie created a three-part dance for the students, based in part on the recent death of one of the programs' co-founders. Ms. Elliott said the first section of the dance is about that loss; the second is about the present and "how you go on" and "the third section is called 'Joy'."

The students will perform Mr. Moultrie's work at Stanford in addition to a "township dance" called "Pantsula" that two of the students created to commemorate their earlier trip to the U.S. The program is called "A Sharing of Cultures Through Dance."

Ms. Elliott said she began having the South African dancers travel to the U.S. as an attempt to broaden their horizons and show them more of the world of professional dance. The program has been a success, she says, with two of the dancers going on to dance professionally in London and Johannesburg.

Life in the townships is not easy. "Every day there's some sort of life-threatening crisis," she says. "It wears you down."

Ms. Elliott danced in Germany with the Stuttgart Ballet and then with the American Ballet Theatre in New York City under Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov. She co-founded a small chamber ballet company in San Francisco before moving to Woodside, with husband Randall Schwabacher and her twin sons, and began teaching at Stanford and at the Zohar School of Dance in Palo Alto.

"I feel very fortunate, very lucky, to be a kind of continuing presence," in the Dance for All program, Ms. Elliott said. "I hope I will be able to continue to get funding to carry on."

Barbara Wood is a freelance writer and photographer. She and Ms. Elliott Schwabacher are on the same Woodside softball team.


Posted by Chanique Mckok, a resident of another community
on May 23, 2009 at 6:00 am

I really admire your dancing im a big fan of you.I missed the last dance you had in South Africa,please I would like to see one of the shows.I would really like to go see the America Ballet School.Please stay in touch when you will be having another show.xoxoxox

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