Dance students create new works for choreographic workshop


Jake Casey is the choreographer for “Red Silence,” starring Ryan Clawson, James Ferguson, Gabriel Berger, Benjamin Kay, Tyler Haritan and Morgan Stillman. Photo by Michelle Kanaar.

Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer

Dancers in the Chautauqua School of Dance get the opportunity to take a leap in choreographers’ ballet slippers.

Apprentice and festival dancers are accustomed to dancing in others’ pieces, but the Choreographic Workshop gives the students an opportunity to create their own works.

“It’s really good as a dancer to have the experience from the other side,” said Lucas Bilbro, School of Dance student.

It helps dancers appreciate what teachers and choreographers do, he said.

Students interested in creating a piece for the workshop went through a selection process with dance faculty. The faculty chose 12 pieces to be shown at the free public 4 p.m. Choreographic Performance today in Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio.

It is not necessarily a bad thing to be eliminated, said Mark Diamond, associate artistic director. Getting started is the hardest part of choreographing a piece, he said, so it is good for young dancers, because even beginning is a valuable experience.

The workshop’s purpose is to give students a well-rounded dance education, Diamond said.

“Not just to be shown dances, but to try and create dances and movement from where they are in their experience,” he said.

Bilbro, who is also the workshop coordinator, said experience in choreography and the administrative side of dance is essential for a dancer’s future.

As coordinator, he schedules all the choreographers’ rehearsals.

“It’s hard, because most people are in multiple pieces, and you’ve got to coordinate so that people aren’t missing dancers during rehearsals,” he said.

The dance faculty encourages students to explore beyond what they do in ballet class.

“If they just go in and do class steps and movements from ballet class, they are just making a ballet class,” Diamond said. “It shows they’re not experimenting.”

And repeating class procedures teaches nothing new, Diamond said.

Artistic Director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux also thinks students should take risks with their choreography.

Bonnefoux insists that students collaborate with a musician for the workshop. That is the type of experience dancers can get only in Chautauqua, he said.

“It’s rare that you have dancers and musicians in the same dorms with a chance to work together,” Bonnefoux said.

Bilbro chose to use a tango by Astor Piazzolla called “Oblivion” for his piece, “Tango bramare.” Cellists Victor M. Huls, Alessandra Garvin, Ruthie Cordray and Eric Tinkerhess from the School of Music will perform the tango.

It is the 16-year-old’s first experience as a choreographer.

Rather than tell a story, Bilbro wanted to portray the music’s sensuality with his ballet.

His piece has the feel of an old film noir that shows low lights hanging in a smoky bar, he said.

“There’s smoke hanging in the air, and you move your hand through it, and it flows quickly, and then it settles,” Bilbro said.

Unlike Bilbro, 19-year-old Ryan Clawson is trying to tell a story with his choreography.

One of his dancers, whose deepest fear is to be the last person on earth, inspired his piece, “End of Nothing.”

Throughout the piece, the dancer sees visions from her past, Clawson said. Thinking that she is alone, she starts to go crazy. In her final vision, she sees herself, and the vision tells her to commit suicide. Just moments after she dies, a man approaches her body, he said.

Clawson enjoyed choreographing the ballet.

“Once I had a story in my head, I just went,” he said. “The choreography just came to me.”

Violinist Allie Switala is arranging “It’s hard to say goodbye” — originally a piano piece by Michael Ortega — for herself, another violinist, a bassist and a cellist for Clawson’s ballet.

Clawson said the hardest part was getting the courage to talk to the musicians.

“That has opened my eyes and my confidence to talking with musicians and getting myself prepared for the future,” he said. “It’s exciting.”