Performing poodles take the spotlight in ‘An American in Paris’


Gregory DeArmond, Jamie Dee, Emma Fontenot, Pete Walker, Alexandra Waterbury and poodles Annie and Charlie are performing in “An American in Paris” at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer

Dancing in the ballet is nothing new for dogs in Sandy Miller’s family.

Miller, who is on the Chautauqua Women’s Club board of directors, saw on the “Grapevine,” a online community bulletin board, that Chautauqua Dance was looking for poodles to appear in Mark Diamond’s ballet, An American in Paris. She jumped at the opportunity.

After all, it was her poodles Molly and Archie who appeared in the 1998 premiere of the piece in Chautauqua.

Miller contacted the Chautauqua Dance office, reminding them of Molly and Archie’s participation years ago.  It didn’t take long for Diamond to reply. He said it would be great if the dogs could perform.

Annie, a two-year-old chocolate toy poodle, and Charlie, a seven-month-old black toy poodle, will make their stage debut in the ballet tonight.

The first time Miller’s dogs appeared in An American in Paris was because of a chance encounter.
Miller had some friends visiting her in Chautauqua, and after escorting them to the gate to leave, she decided to take Molly and Archie for a walk down by the lake.

She figured she would pass the ballet studios and loop around by the lake to go home.

“I was walking them, and this car pulled up, and two men jumped out,” she said.

The men, dressed in suits, asked if they could take a look at her toy poodles.

“I thought this was a little like Cruella de Vil or something,” Miller said. “They asked if I would be willing to let them use my poodles in the ballet.”

Before they graced the Amphitheater stage, the poodles had to come in for an audition. As a puppy, Archie had a habit of leaping off his back feet as he walked, Miller said.

“So we’re in the dance studio and Archie’s leaping, and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux is saying ‘What energy, what energy,’” she said.

Molly, a former show dog, wasn’t to be upstaged, however.

“She got into the thing right away,” Miller said, “and Archie did anything that Molly told him to do.”

The poodles passed their test and were cast as the French poodles in the ballet.
This time around, Annie and Charlie didn’t have to audition since they are from the same breeder and have a similar temperament. That was enough for Diamond.

“I hope his faith is well-placed,” she said.

Poodles seem to know when they are in front of an audience, Diamond said, so they can really put on a show.

The poodles’ part requires them to scurry across stage on their musical cue escorted by dancer Emma Fontenot, a student in the Chautauqua School of Dance.

Annie and Charlie’s rehearsal schedule allowed them to take a special trip to the spa before their premiere.

“I’m almost ashamed of this,” she said, “but (they went) to their own groomer in Pittsburgh on Saturday.”