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A Riverdancer returns

Carmela Gallace has danced for dignitaries around the world. This weekend she comes home as one of the featured dancers in Riverdance.

Published October 30, 2003

[Publicity photo]
The Riverdance cast includes, from left, female dancers Anna Brovkina, Liubov Mortchoukova and Carmela Gallace, and from left, male dancers Yuri Ustogov, Alexei Sukharev and Roman Brovkin.
Pensive dancer
[Times photo (1996)]
Carmela Gallace started studying dance at St. Petersburg’s Academy of Ballet Arts at age 6. After graduating from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, she went to Russia, where she studied at the Moiseyev School.

It was a circuitous road that led St. Petersburg's Carmela Gallace to Riverdance. It started in a local gymnastics program and passed through Vail, Colo., and Moscow.

This weekend, that road leads back home. Gallace will be among the featured dancers when Riverdance comes to the Mahaffey Theater.

"It's going to be great coming home," Gallace said in a phone interview from Jacksonville. "Especially coming to the Bayfront, because that's where I grew up performing."

Gallace, 27, grew up in Venetian Isles, where her mother Gisela Gallace still lives.

As a child, she was a competitive gymnast. She started studying dance to hone her gymnastic chops. It didn't take long before she realized dance suited her better.

"The performing aspect of dance appealed to me more than the competitive aspect of gymnastics," she said.

So she started studying at St. Petersburg's Academy of Ballet Arts at age 6. A few years later she saw Moiseyev Dance Company, a famed and universally respected Russian folk dance troupe, perform at Ruth Eckerd Hall. She knew immediately she wanted to be a part of Moiseyev.

She continued her dance education at Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. One summer, she attended the Bolshoi Ballet's summer program in Vail and was invited to attend the Bolshoi School in Moscow.

She returned home to graduate from Gibbs, then went back to Russia to study at the Moiseyev School. She soon became the only foreigner ever to perform with the Moiseyev company.

"After about three years with that company, I rose to principal dancer status," she said. "We performed all over the world, for many heads of state, kings, presidents and prime ministers."

It sounds like the perfect life for a dancer, but Gallace said it eventually lost its appeal.

"I had sort of had my fill," she said. "I retired, or at least in my mind I had retired, and I studied film at the University of Tampa."

But the dance world soon beckoned. Literally. Russian colleagues who were part of a Riverdance cast called Gallace and asked her to join their company.

"I was actually apprehensive about it at first," she said. "I felt kind of like I was taking a step backward."

It was the central message of Riverdance that drew her in. Despite a common misconception that Riverdance is strictly about Irish dance, it's actually an exploration of the commonality of cultures, expressed through ethnic dances. Gallace performs in two Russian-flavored pieces, "Shivna," a classical duet, and "Russian Dervish," a folk-based dance.

"The cultural diversity is one of the things that really turned me on so much about Riverdance," she said. "It's a multiethnic show, a show about unity. The energy you're surrounded with every single day when you're part of this show is incredible."

PREVIEW: Riverdance, Friday-Sunday at the Mahaffey Theater. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets for evening performances $35-$58, matinees $25-$53, plus service charge. Call (727) 892-5767.

[Last modified October 29, 2003, 15:52:23]

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