Dance students present first gala of 2011


Philip Martin-Nielson and Isabella LaFreniere pose for a portrait at the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio. They are both Festival and Apprentice dancers with the Chautauqua School of Dance. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Taylor Rogers | Staff Writer

The Chautauqua School of Dance will perform the first of two Student Galas at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

The Workshop, Festival and Apprentice dancers had one to two weeks to rehearse both classical and new works. It’s a test of their ability, but Ballet Mistress Glenda Lucena said this group of students has already stood out from others.

“They’re very strong,” Lucena said. ”They’ve been getting good training, and that makes the work easier when it comes to staging or putting them in different ballets.”

Sunday’s performance will commence with Choreographer Michael Vernon’s original piece for the Festival dancers titled “Place Montmartre,” with music by Dmitri Shostakovich. It’s a street scene and will eventually have five or six sections, though the dancers will only perform the first three or four during this Gala.

Vernon said though it’s not a narrative piece, it is a ballet about characters. From schoolgirls to couples with varying levels of compatibility; from a French policeman to a sinister man on the run; this piece tells the complicated story of human interaction. The policeman chases the man on the run throughout the ballet, unifying the different activities in the busy French square.

Vernon got the idea from the music, he said.

“I just think it’s the sort of ballet where the audience should just enjoy the music,” he said. “It’s really enjoyable; it’s really fun, with just one or two more serious moments.”

Mark Diamond, associate artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, choreographed an abstract piece titled “Noble Sentiments,” which will follow Vernon’s ballet.

The Festival and Apprentice dancers will dance only part of the piece but will perform the rest later in the season. Maurice Ravel’s music will accompany the dancers.

The Workshop students will then dance an excerpt from “Cinderella at the Ball.” Maris Battaglia, associate artistic director of the School of Dance, choreographed this piece with music from Sergei Prokofiev. The dancers will perform a longer version later in the season.

The gala will end with George Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations.” Master Teacher Patricia McBride is staging this piece for the Festival and Apprentice dancers.

Balanchine made the ballet in 1960 with mostly soloists and principal dancers from the New York City Ballet. The music, by Gaetano Donizetti, was originally for the opera Dom Sébastien.

McBride said this classical piece has a little of everything, but it’s technically challenging and requires great stamina from the dancers.

“You have to be so on top of the music,” McBride said. “You have to be able to move from one movement to the next with lots of energy and musicality.”

“Donizetti Variations” requires quick footwork, as do many of the Balanchine works. But McBride said she feels the students are up to the challenge.

“They’re ready, willing and able,” she said. “They’re committed and motivated. There’s just a lot of talent in this group.”

McBride said she loves watching her dancers develop technique, especially on a Balanchine piece. She taught the beginning section of the variations to all her students and made her selections during Week Two.

The Chautauqua School of Dance students come from many diverse ballet schools, challenging each choreographer to unify the group. This year, Lucena said, the task seems easier.

Their advanced ability was proven by an invitation to dance with professionals from the North Carolina Dance Theatre, Chautauqua’s resident ballet company, for the July 12 performance.

But McBride stressed that Chautauqua Dance is first and foremost committed to learning. With classes being the main priority for students and staff, they view performances as an additional benefit to developing technique.

McBride, Vernon and Lucena agreed that this group of students comes with an exceptional, yet even, level of talent.  Every dancer has something to offer.

“To do this form of art makes them special,” Lucena said.