New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht and Friends presented an outstanding dance concert featuring the choreography of George Balanchine. Many of the young dancers in attendance had had the opportunity to study with Ulbricht during the preceding week . . . It was an intoxicating evening even for the non-dancers in the audience, because the performers truly put their charisma at the service of art.
Ulbricht—described as a “high octane” performer, his leaps as “pyrotechnic”—considers himself a cultural liaison, an ambassador of his art, on a mission to bring the highest level of achievement to a Buffalo audience. Doing so in an affordable way, he aims to capture a new generation of enthusiasts. . . The gala event is to be preceded by a week of master classes and talks given by Ulbricht at area schools. He will be teaching at several local studios, and give exclusive classes for the students at the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.
From a sweet and sensual pas de deux to fiery solos, the range of selections on the program showcased the various shapes ballet can take and stories it can tell. . . It also was a pleasant change to see NYCB artists dance in a more modest-sized venue . . . As dancers prepared for the next piece, Mr. Ulbricht, who produced and directed the show, briefly talked about the variety of works he put on “the menu” in hopes of appealing to a broad range of ballet tastes. He also spoke about the master classes he had taught during his week in Pittsburgh, noting that more than 225 dancers had turned out for the sessions.
Pasatiempo – Friday, August 21, 2015 – Pasa Review: Stars of American Ballet
TheaterJones – December 26, 2013 – 2013 Review – The Year in Dance
ArtinNM – August 28, 2013 – Stars of American Ballet at the Lensic
TheaterJones – August 22, 2013 – American Classics
TheaterJones – August 15, 2013 – Q&A: Daniel Ulbricht
Pittsburgh Tribune – October 28, 2010 – Daniel Ulbricht and Friends a Charismatic Dance
Artvoice – September 16, 2009 – Balanchine and Beyond
Buffalo News – August 21, 2009 – Dancer Steps Up to Teaching
Buffalo News – September 18, 2009 – Tell Me / A Little Q & A
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – October 16, 2010 – New York City Ballet Takes Byham Stage with Impressive Repertoire
DANIEL ULBRICHT & STARS OF AMERICAN BALLET DANCE ROBBINS
by Ariel Davis
Without a trip to large metropolitan areas, dance fans in smaller cities rarely see major ballet companies perform. Stars of American Ballet was founded in 2008 with these communities in mind, and the company brings the best dancers to America’s front door. They also continue to add to their repertoire of Jerome Robbins ballets.
New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Daniel Ulbricht is the founder of the company. Over the phone (and about to catch a flight to Detroit to teach a master class), Ulbricht explained just how Stars of American Ballet began. In 2008, he brought a few of his friends to St. Petersburg, Florida to put on a show for his mother, who was undergoing cancer treatments and unable to travel to New York. “I really learned to appreciate all the small decisions that go on behind the scenes,” he said. “It could have discouraged me, but I fell in love with the idea that we were making a show happen.” After successfully presenting a second performance in Buffalo, New York, he decided to host similar shows throughout the U.S.
“A lot of places don’t have exposure to this caliber of dancer,” said Ulbricht. “The art is going to die off if we don’t meet them halfway. Dance is still a very visceral experience, and that experience of being in an audience can’t be replicated by watching it on YouTube.” Outreach is a cause that Ulbricht is passionate about. “I believe way too much in dance as a dancer and an educator to see it wane at all. I want to do whatever I can while I can to see that through,” he said.
With his colleagues from New York City Ballet, along with dancers from San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet, he has brought the choreography of Jerome Robbins and others to audiences in such places as Mongolia, Hawaii, Texas and California. “I try to partner up with other companies so it’s a broader scope of what American ballet is that is more identifiable for an American audience,” said Ulbricht.
“We’re trying to create a bridge back to our home companies,” he said. Accessibility to a wide audience is a top priority, so the company’s ticket prices are kept as low as possible. The performances are complemented by master classes and “meet-and-greets,” so that the community gets one-on-one time with the dancers. In recent years, some of the dancers participating in the master classes have even been invited to audition for The School of American Ballet.
With a small group of dancers, Ulbricht is unable to stage larger, story ballets. He likens putting together a program to creating a “menu”—a lot of good pieces that complement each other and taste of different styles. A company the size of Stars of American Ballet found Jerome Robbins’ Fancy Free a perfect fit. After some negotiation, a little fundraising, and a lot of planning, the company has been able to add the classic American ballet to its repertoire.
“Fancy Free is a big, expensive, delicate toy,” said Ulbricht. He considered the opportunity to present Robbins’ ballet an honor. “It’s very easy to do gigs, and it’s easy to throw things together. What I’m trying to do is not let the product get caught in the ease of putting together a show.” For Ulbricht that means selecting the right dancers, which he’s pulled from American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet—two companies that he acknowledges have a “rich history” with the ballet. Having performed in the ballet at NYCB, Ulbricht discovered that staging Fancy Free required he become even more familiar with its history. He also learned the technical requirements, admitting with some surprise that even the height of the onstage barstools was standardized.
The hard work was worth it when the company recently brought Fancy Free to Jacob’s Pillow—a real coup for a crowd that hadn’t seen any Robbins ballet danced on that stage in 45 years. Ulbricht believes that Fancy Free is perfect for Stars of American Ballet’s mission—to present high quality choreography and dance while entertaining, educating and inspiring dance audiences in places that rarely host ballet performances.
The company hopes to pay homage to Jerome Robbins in 2017 or 2018 with a repertoire that would include Fancy Free, In the Night, and selections from Robbins’ Broadway choreography. “These ballets are great and they’re masterpieces. They deserve to be seen and preserved,” Ulbricht said. Over time Ulbricht has gravitated more towards Robbins’ ballets. “His work goes beyond technique,” he said. “There’s an authenticity and a community onstage. It feels like you’re dancing with friends.” He aims to gain funding to rent costumes, and build the intricate sets needed for some ballets. Ulbricht’s other goals for the company include presenting shows in the Midwest, and adding works by new, emerging choreographers to the repertoire. However, his drive for bringing American classics is just as strong. “I want them all to know Robbins and I want them all to know Balanchine,” said Ulbricht. “And the new choreographers too.” In upcoming performances at Jacob’s Pillow, Stars of American Ballet will present Robbins’ In the Night, as well Justin Peck’s Distractions and Sea Change, Johan Kobborg’s Les Lutins and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain.