UI Youth Ballet presents Renewal

BY LAURA WILLIS | MAY 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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The patter of tiny ballet shoes echo through the large, window-lit studio. Seven young girls and two boys dance together, practicing classic ballet movements. Thirteen-year-old Anna Berhow and 11-year-old Val Chavez dance toward center stage, bumping into one another along the way. They suppress their girlish giggles as they continue the fluid movements.

“You need to be more downstage,” said University of Iowa Youth Ballet coordinator and concert director Jason Schadt. “I want everyone to be able to give me a high-five with their foot.”

The instructor’s tall, limber body demonstrates the motions, leading the students one by one to the middle of the stage. Dancers, who range from age 9 to 17, meet three times a week to practice for this weekend’s performance.

“As hard as you try, you’re never going to be perfect,” said 13-year-old Ellie Conrad. “But I still want to be that good.”

Both children and adults will showcase the skills they learned throughout the year at the spring youth ballet concert Renewal at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. May 15 in North Hall’s Space/Place.

Admission is free for UI students with valid IDs, $12 for nonstudents, and $6 for seniors and youth.

The concept of Renewal derived from the idea of taking old concepts and applying them to a modern audience. For Schadt, this meant using classical ballet movements. Yet each of the 11 jazz, modern, ballet, and tap dances have interpreted the topic in diverse ways — some incorporating themes about changing seasons.

However, Schadt’s four choreographed pieces — “White Man Sleeps,” “Giraffes,” Unsospiro,” and “In the Alley of Roses” — don’t have a defined narrative; instead, it’s up for the individual to create her or his own story.

“I try to emphasize with students that it can still be captivating if the dancer is committed through the story,” Schadt said. “The story is sort of a vehicle for the dancers to become present in something they’re doing.”

In one pose, dancers curl their arms up to their shoulders, appearing as if something is in their hands. Some students pretended it was a diamond, and another acted as if it were a squirrel.

“I tell them, ‘If you are able to connect to it in some way, the audience will be able to connect to it too,’ ” Schadt said. “They don’t have to know it was a squirrel, they get to make up their own thing, which is the nice idea.”

The UI alum’s teaching strategies differ for each age group. For younger children, Schadt plays music that doesn’t have strong meters to count along to, yet still has recognizable cues. The students are free to express themselves through skips, hops, and jumps. As they grow older, technique becomes a primary concern. It is important for students to have a large contrast in short and dynamic movements to long, drawn-out dances so as not to create a monotonous piece.

Throughout this week, the students participated in “tech week,” rehearsing each day in costumes and under bright stage lights. For most dancers, the intense practices are when every aspect of the 15 week-long preparations finally come full circle.

As Anna and Ellie discussed the upcoming show, they fist-pumped the air after realizing that they would wear long, flowing black tutus instead of white ones. The two, who each had spent more than eight years dancing, looked forward to the exhilarating atmosphere created by lights, costumes, and of course, practice.

“When I first stepped in, these kids were little,” Schadt said. “I think that in the process of starting a semester, training in a studio, putting together the choreography, and bringing it to a stage — they are growing more than they realize.”

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