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Youth Ballet Takes the Stage

BY JUSTUS FLAIR | DECEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Every winter, people expect to see or hear about The Nutcracker. It is rare for such an iconic show not to be performed somewhere nearby.

The University of Iowa Youth Ballet Winter Concert serves as a sort of local Nutcracker for Iowa City — the event has been performed consistently since the program's founding in 1972. This year will be no exception, with performances taking place in the North Hall's Space/Place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Dec. 22. Admission is free.

"The community benefits greatly from the [Youth Ballet] program because there is not anything else like it in the city," said Jennifer Weber, a co-director of the event. "It is hugely important for the [Youth Ballet] to continue and thrive because it provides a connection to real-world experiences for the college students, and it acts as a vehicle for the university to provide its services to the community."

The children have been working on the performance for the entire semester, learning from lectures as well as choreography. Their lectures will actually be incorporated into this year's performance, presented by each level to highlight the skills they have been gaining.

"This year, we are including a lecture demonstration part of the performance that will showcase what they have been working on in their classes," Weber said.

The event will also include a dance performance, arranged and taught to them by Youth Ballet instructors.

"Students began rehearsals for classical repertory about three months ago," said Artistic Director Jason Schadt. "The finale of the event will be an excerpt from the classical ballet Le Corsaire, specifically the "Odalisques Pas de Trois," adapted by Jennifer Weber for 10 dancers."

The piece and the lecture portion are complementary, giving the event an easy flow.

"This semester, we are focusing on technical and performance skills, and that is why we chose the lecture demonstration and Le Corsaire," Weber said.

Le Corsaire fits in perfectly with the overall lesson plan for the semester, as students incorporate history, performance, and technique.

"We wanted to do something from a classical ballet, and [Le Corsaire] has a long history in classical ballet repertory, so the students get to learn the ballet history through their work, and it is also very challenging for them," said Youth Ballet instructor Peggy Mead-Finizio of the final dance for the level four and five dancers.

Though difficult, the students have lived up to high expectations, showing what their instructors feel is incredible dedication and a maturity beyond their years.

"Students in [Youth Ballet] are juggling a lot, more than most adults, so they have to become very good at time management, and they have to learn how to focus very intensely," Weber said. "At a dancer-level, these students are learning how to be better dancers while getting to perform. But under the surface, they are learning how to work and train, and they are learning what it takes to build a skill set."

Essential to building this skill set are not just the time-management skills and the passion these young dancers all possess but the devotion of their instructors.

"There is no other dance program like ours anywhere around," Schadt said. "We have outstanding teachers and access to tremendous resources as a part of the University of Iowa. [Our instructors] are specialists at teaching not only dance technique but also teaching the life skills it takes to become a dancer."


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