UI Youth Ballet performs Winter Gifts


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Jason Schadt teaches with an open mind and a little bit of faith.

The coordinator for the University of Iowa Youth Ballet and School of Dance and concert director molds performances around dancers, unlike dance schools that try to fit dancers into predetermined routines.

"That is a stressful undertaking," Schadt said. "The great thing is that these are students who want to work, and if I trust my instincts and just create, then a piece will come of it."

Students ranging in ages from 7 to 16 will present Winter Gifts in North Hall's Space/Place at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Dec. 19. Admission is for UI students is free with valid IDs, $12 for nonstudents, and $6 for seniors and youth.

Youth Ballet participants will demonstrate the skills they have learned during their weekly lessons. Through dancing for an audience, students also learn stage presence and performance quality.

"I know my son will be walking on air the whole tech week of rehearsals because he enjoys performing so much and loves it when it all comes together," said Amy Phelps, the mother of 10-year-old participant Paul Amrani.

An emphasis on creating movements specifically for the dancers helps the show's choreographers experiment with their pieces.

For example, one starts in silence. Six students dance in unison without musical cues, but they are able to focus on the fundamentals of their movements and pay attention to their peers on stage.

Other dances will be accompanied by a range of musical styles including Danse Macabre, by Charles Camille Saint-Saëns, "Kangaroos" from Carnival of Animals, and a piece that incorporates cello and guitar — an original complement for ballet.

"[The choreography] might not be traditional, but it always captures the sprightly, energetic innocence of youth and is enhanced by lively, varied musical choices," Phelps said. "I've seen a few scenes from the show, and I know this will live up to my expectations and be really delightful."

Schadt said the performance is an exhibition more than a recital. The costumes are basic, including black leotards, pink tights, and simple, long skirts, and there are not many extravagant props or lighting additions. The show is about the dancers, he said.

Bunnie Tomes, the grandmother of 9-year-old Sarah Tomes, said she appreciates the experience the Youth Ballet has given her granddaughter.

"We liked the fact that the emphasis was on not only good ballet technique but on personal development and good health and that the focus was not on recitals," she said.

Schadt sees the importance of paying attention to dancers instead of a glitzy showcase.

"I get the opportunity to know their capacity for movement," he said. "I think that is a real strength for our program, because we are looking at our students as individuals and taking time to evaluate each of their needs."

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