Daniel Ulbricht is on a mission.
As principal dancer with world-renowned New York City Ballet, he isn’t merely content to dazzle audiences onstage in one of the world’s foremost entertainment capitals.
His mission is to bring the uniquely American styles of dance to cities and towns large and small throughout the world.
And he has been doing just that.
During breaks from his NYCB performances, he is artistic director and lead dancer with Stars of the American Ballet, a touring company he founded in 2008.
Made up of members of NYCB and half a dozen other American dance companies, they have brought the works of some of America’s greatest choreographers to cities ranging from the size of Chicago and Dallas to much smaller locales like Boca Raton, Florida and Aspen, Colorado, as well as to such faraway places as Ulan Bator, Mongolia.
Stars of the American Ballet will be coming to the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts on Friday night for one show only.
As the second performance of the New Orleans Ballet Association’s 2014-15 season, the evening will showcase internationally acclaimed Balanchine interpreter Wendy Whelan in one of her first performances since announcing her retirement from NYCB after a 30-year career with them, most of it as their principal dancer.
Whelan will perform two pas de deuxs (duets) in the first act of Friday’s performance with longtime dance partner Craig Hall. The pieces, “This Bitter Earth” and “After the Rain” were roles she originated from the choreography of Christopher Wheeldon.
The second act of the performance will be an ensemble piece familiar to many dance enthusiasts: Jerome Robbins’ 1944 classic “Fancy Free.”
The 30-minute dance sequence, featuring three sailors on 24-hour shore leave in New York City, was one of the centerpieces of the Leonard Bernstein musical “On the Town,” composed that same year and now in its third Broadway revival.
Friday’s cast will include five other dancers from NYCB in addition to Ulbricht, Whelan and Hall, plus two dancers from Houston Ballet.
Commenting on the selection of the numbers to be performed, Ulbricht said, “When I designed the program, I was trying to put together pieces that people in New Orleans weren’t particularly familiar with. I wanted to take things that were highlights from New York or maybe even pieces we don’t have a chance to perform in New York often.”
The inclusion of a familiar work like “Fancy Free,” Ulbricht said, “is a testament to the piece in terms of the artists who are performing it but also because it’s such a great masterpiece to showcase. I like it when we’re able to mix and match in the cast. I think it keeps the ballet fresh. It’s the oldest piece on the bill, yet it can be performed with a freshness as if it was choreographed two years ago.”
Ulbricht is Sailor No. 1 in the piece. The other two “sailors” onstage with him are Connor Walsh from Houston Ballet and Amar Ramasar from NYCB.
The three women they are wooing with their fancy dance routines are Teresa Reichlen, Georgina Pazcoguin and Sterling Hyltin, all with NYCB.
Ulbricht also performs a three-minute solo dance in Act I, titled “Tango,” with music by Astor Piazzolla, choreographed by Servy Gallardo. “It’s a very exciting piece from start to finish,” he noted. “I will hopefully be flying around on the stage and my goal is to create this subtle roller coaster effect for the audience to experience.”
Other works in the first act are pieces by George Balanchine, “Duo Concertant” (with music by Igor Stravinsky) and “The Man I Love” (George Gershwin). Walsh and Lauren Strongin, also from Houston Ballet, perform an Act I pas de deux titled “Sons de l’ame” (Sounds of the Soul), choreographed by Stanton Welch, Houston Ballet’s artistic director.
Summing up his mission, Ulbricht said, “The neat thing is that ‘Stars of the American Ballet’ can offer itself as an artistic ambassador to the arts. Regardless of where you’re from or whatever language you speak, you’ll be able to have that experience. We want to expand on the home front as well as internationally. If we can create the validation to go forward for the next generation of dancers I’ll feel like we’re fulfilling our goals.”
Catch a pre-performance talk with Daniel Ulbricht at 7 p.m. on the Mezzanine Level (M2) of the Mahalia Jackson Theater.