Third-year Michael Scalzo was a nationally ranked Irish step dancer with a passion for musical theater before a group of girls recruited him for University Ballet (UB) during his first year at the University of Chicago.
Since then, he has quickly transitioned from student to teacher. “I so enjoy sharing what I have learned as a male dancer with the younger generation of dancers who have joined the Registered Student Organization,” said Scalzo. “My time with UB has now allowed me to teach and coach as well as perform.”
As a male ballet dancer with the company, Scalzo had performed many iconic ballet roles such as Lankendem, Prince Albrecht, and Espada.
“UB has allowed me to hone my technique in a structured company atmosphere, something I thought would not be possible while enrolled in a university,” he added.
UB produces two performances a year. One, a full length ballet, usually takes place during Winter Quarter. The second takes place in the spring and is usually a more contemporary work. In addition to performances, UB provides free classes at levels ranging from basic to advanced.
What “sets UB apart from other institutions is that we look out for the long term—we watch our dancers grow and we foster the talent and skills that we know they have,” said Angelina Liang, a fourth-year and UB’s executive director. “We work to build a community that dancers feel safe to turn to—we're not only dancers here, we're friends too.”
This spring, UB’s performance combines two unique shows. The first act—A Midsummer Night’s Dream—is entirely student choreographed with an emphasis on contemporary ballet while the second—Don Quixote—is an abridged version based on Marius Petipa’s traditional ballet. Liang, who plays Kitri in Don Quixote, describes the ballet as “a light-hearted ballet that deals very much with the coquettish, teasing, almost frustrating relationships that we have all once or twice found ourselves in.
“Midsummer, on the other hand, is slightly more mystical and less grounded—quite literally for those fairies—but has a similar feel of bungled love.”
Although choreographing an entire ballet is incredibly time-consuming, for the students involved, the task is not without its rewards.
“It is a rare occasion in which unique roles are choreographed and originated on a specific dancer,” said Scalzo, who plays Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “There is something invigorating about performing a piece that has never been danced before and that has been choreographed for the dancer performing it. This is what truly sets Midsummer apart from other performances.”
While Don Quixote does not offer the same opportunities for original choreography, it does allow students to perform the same steps as a professional company. Petipa choreographed Don Quixote for the Imperial Russian Ballet in 1869. In dancing his Don Quixote, students not only tell Miguel de Cervantes’s story through dance but also participate in a piece of ballet history. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Don Quixote may seem like they have little in common, but, according to Liang, “Both promise characters that are bigger than life and situations that will keep you guessing, but always laughing.”
A Midsummer Night's Dream and Don Quixote will be performed May 21 at 7 p.m. and May 22 at 2 p.m. at International House. For more details, please visit http://uballet.uchicago.edu.
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 - 8:20pm