From St. Petersburg, Fla., to Moscow _ that's the journey taken by Carmela Gallace in pursuit of being in a professional dance company. And not just any company but one of the world's best-loved troupes.
Gallace, 20, holds the distinction of being the first Westerner to be a member of the Moiseyev Dance Company, which has been the Russian people's most winning cultural ambassador since the cold war. After studying at the Moiseyev school in Moscow, she recently accepted a contract to perform in the company for a year.
Gallace had to go through Russian authorities to get a work visa, a process that took months. "I finally cleared everything," she said a week ago. "It's been very difficult to deal with the bureaucracy. Since the Moiseyev has never had a foreigner, they didn't know the process."
The dancer has been at home in July, visiting her mother and father, Bruno and Gisela Gallace, who own Bruno's Trattoria, an Italian restaurant on St. Pete Beach.
Gallace has wanted to be in the Moiseyev company since seeing it perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall. From age 6, she had trained under Suzanne Pomerantzeff and Lester Jacobsen at the Academy of Ballet Arts in St. Petersburg. Her first contact with the Russian dance establishment came through attending the Bolshoi Ballet's summer school in Vail, Colo. The Bolshoi invited her to attend its school in Moscow, which she did during the first semester of her senior year at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts.
In 1994, Gallace graduated from PCCA, and has continued to study dance in Moscow, first with the Bolshoi Academy, then with the Moiseyev school. She prefers the national dances of the Moiseyev to classical ballet.
"In (classical) ballet, it's like there's a wall between you and the audience," she said. "With the Moiseyev, it's more from the heart, from the soul. I really feel with this company like I'm reaching out and touching people in the audience."
The Moiseyev is a remarkable company, and it is led by a remarkable figure. At 90, Igor Moiseyev still works with his dancers.
"He rehearses everyone everyday _ he even demonstrates steps," Gallace said. "He always walks the stairs from his fourth-floor office. He never takes the elevator."
Before founding the company in 1937, Moiseyev was ballet master of the Bolshoi. His purpose in leaving classical ballet to choreograph folk dances was to raise them to a professional level and show them to the world. Moiseyev dances like the high-leaping Gopak and Partisans, a World War II resistance drama, are famous for the impact they make on audiences.
The heart of the company's repertoire is Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Siberian and Tartar dances. But it also performs numbers from Argentina, Japan, India and other non-Russian traditions.
The company has made nine U.S. tours, the most recent being in 1995. Over the next year, it will be performing in Italy, Israel and Turkey, with other tours still to be scheduled. Gallace's current visa will allow her to go on one of the tours, and she expects to work out permission for others.
Moiseyev members don't get rich. Gallace will be paid the equivalent of about $100 a month while in Moscow, where she lives with a family. "Dancers make a lot of their money on tour, when they get daily allowances they try to save," she said.
Gallace enjoys the down-to-earth quality of Russian life. "People have welcomed me with open arms," she said. "The culture is much different. People are more interested in you as a person. You take long walks together as entertainment instead of just watching TV."
Still, she has experienced the country during a wrenching transition. In recent months, the Moiseyev company performed numerous benefits for Boris Yeltsin, who was in a tough presidential campaign. Yeltsin's victory didn't relieve the sense of political drift.
"Most Russians voted for Yeltsin because they didn't want to go back to the way it was before," Gallace said. "But there's an awful lot of organized crime. The mafia is pretty much going wild, dealing in drugs, guns, prostitution."
Gallace's parents have supported their daughter in her dance adventure to Moscow, but not without some trepidation. "To be truthful, my father would rather I was in college," she said. "He just thinks Russia is a little far away, a little unstable."
And she plans to follow her father's wishes after her contract with the Moiseyev is up. "I think one year will be enough," she said. "I just wanted to experience life as a professional dancer. Then I think I'd like to go to college and learn another profession."
STATE ARTS _ The Florida Arts Council meets next week in Tallahassee. Members will be voting on recommendations for state arts funding, an array of grants ranging from relatively small amounts to individual artists to substantial three-year appropriations to cultural institutions. With more cultural institutions competing for funding, and the available money not increasing, the grants will be much smaller than in the past. Officials of Ruth Eckerd Hall, for example, project receiving no more than $130,000 a year over the next three years, compared to $350,000 a year in the previous three-year cycle.
MUSIC _ John Bell Young on piano will be joined by soprano Crystal Cattar-Bedan in Spanish songs as part of the pianist's program at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Young also will play pieces by Hugh Downs (better known as a network TV announcer) and Friedrich Nietzsche (better known as a philosopher), as well as works of Scriabin, Debussy and Liszt. Tickets are $7 and $8. Call 896-2667.
The English youth orchestra of East Hertfordshire, north of London, will play Sousa marches, Andrew Lloyd Webber show tunes, Strauss waltzes, Greensleeves and other such fare at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $3-$5. Call 942-5605.