In the world of ballet, perhaps there is no bigger name than Daniel Ulbricht.
Known as the Billy Elliot of St. Petersburg, this Florida native around the turn of the century enjoyed a meteoric rise from local karate kid to international dance star. Today, he’s a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, as well as founder of his own company.
His presence alone puts him atop the ballet world, which is why Ohio Dance Theatre artistic director Denise Gula couldn’t be more thrilled to have him as a guest artist for the Oberlin-based company’s annual presentation of “The Nutcracker” Dec. 20 to 22 at the Stocker Arts Center.
“For us, it’s extremely important,” Gula said. “He is internationally known, and he’s a friend of ours. He’s been in town a few times. Daniel is really dedicated to making ballet accessible and connecting with audiences to keep the art form exciting and relevant for new audiences. It’s sort of a passion of his. He’s just a young, passionate, delightful male dancer. He’s the cream of the cream.”
Because of Ulbricht’s notoriety, the Ohio Dance Theatre has scheduled a Big Apple-esque affair with an opening night gala that allows ballet fans a meet-and-greet – along with orchestra tickets, pre and post-performance party offering hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, carving station, desserts, complimentary bar and one glass of champagne – with the dance legend.
“Does this community understand the big deal that he is?” Gula said. “I don’t know. For me, it’s as if somebody said LeBron James was going to come into town and have a big meet and greet. If you don’t know the sport, you wouldn’t get the gravity of that.”
It’s pointed out the one big difference is Ulbricht won’t be booed.
“No, he definitely will not be booed, that’s for certain,” Gula laughed.
As for the Ohio Dance Theatre’s version of “The Nutcracker,” Gula said it’s a traditional interpretation using Tchaikovsky’s music. However, because of her strong theatrical background, the classic ballet’s party scene is less hectic with more dancing. She feels this makes it more accessible to audiences, including young children that are often mesmerized by color and the spectacle of the ballet.
In addition, Gula said there are many layers to “The Nutcracker” where returning audience members often glean something new.
“It’s a production that if you’ve never seen a ballet before and you want to try it, our ‘Nutcracker’ is a great one to go for,” Gula said. “You know, it’s as simple as you have to know your audience. In our community, our ‘Nutcracker’ is the largest selling arts event annually.
“We’ll see close to 4,000 people on that weekend. I think during this time of the year, a lot of families just want that traditional, old-fashioned family holiday.”
Want to go?
WHAT: The Ohio Dance Theatre presents “The Nutcracker”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 21 and 2 p.m. Dec. 22
WHERE: Stocker Arts Center, 1005 Abbe Road North, Elyria
COST: $18-32 (Opening night gala tickets are $95)