Strong, graceful, athletic and model-handsome, professional ballet dancer Zachary Catazaro commands the stage. Anyone who witnessed his performance as the Prince in Canton Ballet’s spring production of “Cinderella” can attest to this.
The engagement was a nostalgic homecoming for Catazaro, who literally grew up on the Palace Theatre stage with the Canton Ballet. The 21-year-old dancer’s rising reputation extends well beyond his hometown. Catazaro is a member of the corps de ballet of the New York City Ballet (NYCB), one of the world’s premier dance companies.
During the 2010-11 season, he had featured roles in five productions. His performance as the Cavalier in “The Nutcracker” earned him critical praise in the New York Times. Catazaro’s “adult refinement as a partner made a very fine impression. More, please,” the review concluded.
A Hoover High School alumnus, Catazaro graduated after his junior year, which enabled him to move to Manhattan in 2006 and study at the School of American Ballet under full scholarship.
There, he quickly learned that his dance prowess in Canton was something of a big-fish, small-pond scenario.
“It was really intimidating,” he recalls. “The talent level is so high when you go to New York City. The best dancers from all over the world are there. You have to be very focused. They had me taking every level of classes, 14 classes a week. They wanted to refine me.”
In October 2007, Catazaro was hired as an apprentice by the New York City Ballet, which operates the school. A year later, he received his corps de ballet contract.
“Next year, I will be in the senior corps, and from that point on, I’ll be working my way up,” he says. “I’ve been dancing there for almost four years.”
The workload for New York City Ballet dancers is hard to fathom. The dancers have to learn 40 ballets a season.
“You have to take in so much information, and learn to perform them in a matter of days,” Catazaro says.
Consequently, “when something is thrown at me, I can pick it right up.”
He learned his role in Canton Ballet’s “Cinderella” in one day, having just returned from a New York City Ballet tour of Hong Kong.
Check out this work schedule: Tuesdays through Sundays, Catazaro has dance class from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., then ballet rehearsals until 6 p.m., then a performance at 7:30 or 8 p.m. On Saturday, there are two performances.
For the past three years, Catazaro has been dealing with an ankle injury, and in late March had surgery to remove scar tissue. He also has had various minor back injuries.
“My pain tolerance has gotten much better,” he says.
Asked if any of this parallels the dance world portrayed in the horrific film “Black Swan,” he smiles and says, “I didn’t see it.”
Catazaro, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, performs with New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center in a theater that seats 2,600 people.
“I’m getting some really good opportunities,” he says. “Doing the Cavalier in their ‘Nutcracker’ was an honor and a turning point. It’s their testing ground. There has to be some maturity to you. They could see I can partner.”
“I still don’t breathe when he’s up there,” says Jennifer Catazaro Hayward, Zachary’s mother, who has attended a number of his New York City Ballet performances.
“He didn’t have a chance really,” she says with a smile.
Hayward was teaching at the School of Canton Ballet, where she herself had begun dancing at age 8. Her young son Zachary accompanied her to work and it was natural that he began taking dance classes.
“I grew up at the ballet, surrounded by girls and women,” Catazaro says. “It was like he had two mothers, me and Cassandra (Crowley, Canton Ballet’s artistic director),” adds Hayward, a Canton Ballet faculty member.
Catazaro’s father, Thomas Clark, owns the Riverfront Ballroom and Latin Dance Center in Cuyahoga Falls. Boys and ballet can be a tricky subject.
“As he got older, Zachary didn’t really want to be there,” she recalls. “He would rather play sports.”
At North Canton Middle School, the guys “didn’t understand,” he remembers. An avid athlete, Catazaro played baseball, basketball and soccer while growing up. On the Hoover High School track team, he competed in the high jump and long jump. He even did some football workouts.
“Don Hertler (Hoover’s head football coach) was really supportive of Zachary,” Hayward says. “He even came down to Canton Ballet one day.”
While in high school, Catazaro and his best friend Dillon Shifferly were gaining plenty of atttention and experience with their poised and athletic dancing in a string of leading roles at Canton Ballet.
In those days, “We didn’t think we’d become professional ballet dancers,” Catazaro says.
Shifferly, a 2006 McKinley High School grad, dances with Ballet Puerto Rico, after stints with Dayton Ballet and the North Carolina Dance Theatre.
The big turning point for Catazaro, his mother says, was when he summered in Chautauqua, N.Y., in 2005, and gained high-level performing experience as a dancer.
“He made the decision that dancing was what he really wanted to do,” she says. “He was really good at it.”
Zachary’s little brother, Cameron Catazaro Hayward, 10, is following in his footsteps. A dancer at Canton Ballet since age 3, Cameron is — by all reports — showing a lot of promise.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE SON
Like her son, Zachary, Jennifer Catazaro Hayward spent her formative years at Canton Ballet, where she began classes at age 8 and danced leading roles in various productions.
As her son later would do, she moved to New York City at age 16 to attend the School of American Ballet on a full scholarship.
“Emotionally, I wasn’t really ready,” she says today. “I was living on my own, and I had the pressure of that and school, and I ended up getting an injured foot. My junior year, I came home.”
After high school, she shifted from ballet to competitive ballroom dancing and was a teacher at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio for four years.
In 1990, she joined the faculty of Canton Ballet, where she still teaches, and also performs with the Players Guild and Ohio Light Opera.
MODELING CAREER ALSO IN BLOOM FOR CATAZARO
Zachary Catazaro was one of five New York City Ballet dancers chosen to model tailored fashions for a layout titled called “The Jete Set” in the February 2011 issue of Menswear magazine. He models a vest and pants by Canali and shirt by Dior Homme.
“Photo shoots are a lot of fun,” he says. “There’s always so much staff tending to everything you need.”
Catazaro appeared in a Women’s Wear Daily layout with NYCB dancer Jenifer Ringer, has done runway modeling for fashion shows in New York City; and appeared in an episode of TV’s “Gossip Girl.”
Zachary Catazaro was featured in several pages of the February 2011 issue of Menswear magazine.