You could say that Daniel Ulbricht grew up on the stage of Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. As an exceptional ballet student, Ulbricht performed there in numerous holiday productions of The Nutcracker as well as recitals by his dance studio.
"When I walk back on the stage, I remember exactly how it felt,'' Ulbricht says. "It's a nice space. It's not overwhelming. I like the way the audience is arranged there.''
Ulbricht has not been on the Mahaffey stage for a while. Nine years ago, he moved from St. Petersburg to go to the school of New York City Ballet. Now, at 24, he's a principal dancer with the company and one of its rising stars.
Today, Ulbricht is back at Mahaffey to present himself and some friends from New York City Ballet and Houston Ballet in a program to benefit Friends of Dance, a St. Petersburg nonprofit organization that helped him as a youngster.
In addition to Ulbricht, three other dancers in the program also grew up in the Tampa Bay area. Savannah Lowery, who is from Largo, and Ashley Laracey, who is from Sarasota, are both with New York City Ballet. Allison Miller, a member of Houston Ballet, is from St. Petersburg.
New York City Ballet is the leading dance company in the United States. It was cofounded by George Balanchine, the choreographer whose works are the foundation of the company's repertory, and today's program will include excerpts from his Tarantella, Jewels, Apollo and Who Cares?
"Balanchine can take a little introduction,'' Ulbricht says. "The rep we picked is something fast, something slow, something medium and something fun.''
The program, to be danced to taped music, also includes classical ballet — excerpts from Swan Lake and Coppelia. Ulbricht will perform in four numbers, including Piazzolla Tango, a new solo by Servy Gallardo.
"I've always wanted to come back to St. Pete with something like this,'' he says. "I wanted to have a whole afternoon presenting people who are from the area. I don't think people realize how much dance talent comes from here. This I thought would be a wonderful opportunity to show what the area has produced artistically.''
Without a ballet company of its own, the Tampa Bay area has sent many a young dancer to schools and companies in other cities. Modern dancers, too, have left the area to pursue careers with Alvin Ailey and other top-level companies.
"You do have the occasional Nutcracker, but besides that, ballet is pretty scarce in the area,'' says Ulbricht, whose parents live in St. Petersburg and helped him to put on the Mahaffey program. "I don't know what the problem is. There's not a problem producing the dancers, it's just about making a place for them to perform, a ballet company.''
He's hoping that dance students in the area will attend today's performance, which he'd like to make an annual event. "I grew up on ballet video tapes, but the best way to be inspired is to see it live in the theater,'' he says.
Ulbricht has become well established in New York and was profiled in the cover story of June's Dance magazine. He has an apartment on the Upper West Side, within walking distance of New York City Ballet's theater at Lincoln Center. He was promoted to principal dancer in 2007, joining the ranks of elite dancers in the company.
"To me, the title principal dancer is about becoming an artist,'' he says. "It's amazing when you see the people you're sharing that title with. Baryshnikov was a principal here, as were Peter Martins, Patricia McBride, Eddie Villella. It's very humbling to be given that title.''
There are 24 principals among the 95 dancers on the current roster. Ulbricht's featured roles have included the Jester in Swan Lake, one of the sailors in Fancy Free, Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and the title role in Prodigal Son.
"Every step I take is now being watched closely,'' he says. "I like that because it keeps pushing me. If you're being watched, you're consistently making it fresh for your audience and most importantly fresh for yourself.''
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.