Anthony Bannon | Guest Reviewer
The audience in the Amphitheater enjoyed a look into the future Sunday afternoon and saw that it is full of excellence and adventure — and that there is hope. The future, we saw, loves beauty and doesn’t shirk from difficulty or from ideas thought impossible.
There is a strong sense of community in this future, foretold by the young dancers gathered to present the Chautauqua Dance Student Gala, a presentation by Chautauqua Festival and Workshop Dancers, under the direction for the past 30 years, of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux.
A banner on stage, in fact, announced this year of celebration, a legacy looking back upon a “Rich Tradition” and forward to an “Exciting Future,” and Bonnefoux and his Associate Director Maris Battaglia also took opportunity to memorialize contributions of the late Ed Anderson and Margery Gootnik, volunteers with the School of Dance, who were like family.
The expectations for quality are high for the young dancers. They come prepared to perform, and those in workshop did so after just one week’s preparation. They showed well in a brief choreography by Battaglia that moved the students through fundamental positions and into the connective tissue between the poses.
The older students, members of the summer Festival engagement and apprentices to the resident dancers from Bonnefoux’s North Carolina Dance Theatre, performed five pieces: work by NCDT dancer David Morse; by Mark Diamond, Chautauqua Dance associate artistic director; by Michael Vernon, Chautauqua Dance’s dance master and frequent choreographer; by Battaglia; and, as the finale, George Balanchine’s famed “Serenade,” his first ballet in America, from 1934, created for his early workshop students.
Bonnefoux and his wife, Patricia McBride, who staged “Serenade,” were principal dancers for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, which was established in 1948. NYCB carried the strong tradition of Balanchine’s early work while the choreographer developed with the company his ground breaking contributions to the history and practice of the art of dance.
I mentioned hope earlier — that the afternoon well spent with the young dancers suggested hope, and I might add determination and character and the confidence to place one’s body on the line — to make significant lines in space, through time.
I saw two youngsters collide on stage and sprawl to the floor. There was no hesitation, apparently no physical injury, no outcry. They quickly picked themselves up and found their places in the dance, and they continued.
That was in Morris’ piece, called “Concerto Grosso,” after the music by Ernest Bloch, and the piece was all about an awareness of line — nine dancers foretelling and bookending with “Serenade,” continuing the lesson about bodies, and their beauty and what can be made from them for others.
Surely those youngsters who fell have built character, and they have participated in an important culture that calls out an awareness of how we name ourselves as a group, how we come to know about ourselves and our values. Regardless of whether any of the youngsters continue in dance, they will continue in life knowing character and carriage.
They have known the vision of Mark Diamond, whose psycho-social choreography takes on some fearful ways of being in the world. They performed a new Diamond work called “Foresight,” and they had the opportunity to place into their sinews the great Violin Concerto No. 1 by the contemporary master Philip Glass. To that music, the dancers asked themselves to move to the unique choreography — as no one has moved before.
If anyone is keeping track, the score the students have made already numbers pretty high. Diamond said his work finds origins in Homer’s Iliad. The literary classic continues to ring true to issues about acceptance and rejection, and the individual and the crowd. There is dark within it, and there is light.
Those are rhetorics of comparison and contrast that work in dance — or any discourse — as well as in debate. “Memories” by Michael Vernon poses a formal, classical structure that he sets against the inventive, romantic and disruptive. “Serenade” also did that when it emerged from the classic tradition in dance to propose ideas — a psychology — about a woman’s assurance and command.
The lines of dance were never the same after “Serenade,” and the dance by others Sunday suggested its legacy. As the lines of dance have changed, so changing are the lives of the young dancers. Chautauqua has as its gift the responsibility to watch them grow and foster their process.
Anthony Bannon is the executive director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center, a multi-arts venue on the campus of Buffalo State College. Previously, he had served as the dance critic for The Buffalo News and director of George Eastman House, in Rochester, N.Y.