Final dance student gala showcases summer of hard work

Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer
“Swan Lake,” choreographed by Maris Battaglia

Chautauqua School of Dance’s final student gala of the summer is bittersweet. More than two months of intense classes and rehearsals have all led to one final performance. As the students look around the Amphitheater stage on Sunday, they will be surrounded by both old and new friends.

But at some point during Sunday’s performance, apprentice dancer Alexandra Heier will look around the stage and be completely alone.

Heier will perform her first-ever solo in the Chautauqua School of Dance Student Gala at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

Heier will perform “Mazurka,” a restaged piece with choreography by Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Chautauqua Dance artistic director. Not only is a solo a new thing for Heier, Bonnefoux said, but it’s also something rare for Chautauqua Dance.

Heier’s solo, a character piece en pointe, features music by Camille Saint-Saëns. Mazurka is actually a style of dance, she said, and the solo is mostly about capturing the feeling of a Polish folk dance.

The gala will also feature the best pieces from the School of Dance’s choreographic workshop, which gives students a chance to create their own dances.

The workshop provides a unique opportunity for students to express themselves, Bonnefoux said, while also presenting the challenge of coordinating between dancers and musicians. The students don’t just have to be talented as choreographers, he said, but also have to be good teachers.

Sasha Janes is no stranger to the concept of choreography, having been commissioned to choreograph for North Carolina Dance Theatre since 2006.

His piece “Tango Forte” was developed while he was teaching a contemporary variations class for the festival dancers this summer. Bonnefoux was sitting in on one of the classes and encouraged Janes to turn a combination of steps into a full piece for the gala.

The contemporary abstract piece features 12 dancers en pointe with music from Hôtel Costes. Instead of a formal costume, the students were encouraged to wear their favorite dance attire for the piece, Janes said.

Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer“Tango Forte,” choreographed by Sasha Janes

Roxana Pop | Staff Photographer

“Tango Forte,” choreographed by Sasha Janes

The students will also revisit a few works performed earlier in the season, such as “Counterpoint,” a symphonic piece choreographed by Michael Vernon. The students will also be performing the first movement of George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony,” restaged by Patricia McBride, NCDT associate artistic director and Chautauqua Dance master teacher.

Another piece in the show will be “Water Music,” choreographed by Mark Diamond, Chautauqua Dance associate artistic director. The neo-classical ballet features excerpts from Georg Friedrich Händel’s “Water Music.”

The final gala provides another opportunity for the students to perform, Diamond said. He always sees huge improvement from the beginning to the end of the season.

“It’s so intensive, and there’s so much information, and there’s so many challenges and possibilities to show how you’ve improved during the season,” Diamond said.

The student gala will also feature dancers from Workshop II, which includes dancers ranging in age from 12 to about 14 who have completed a five-week intensive program. They will perform a number of pieces choreographed by Maris Battaglia, School of Dance associate director, including “Swan Lake,” “Moonlight Sonata” and “Dance for Six.”

“Moonlight Sonata,” a contemporary piece performed en pointe, will be accompanied by a pianist.

Battaglia will also be restaging a piece choreographed by Vernon, titled “Susan B. Anthony.” The work features couples, with some girls dressed as men, she said. The piece highlights the battle women fought to win suffrage.

Workshop II students will also perform a hip-hop piece choreographed by Rachel Moriarty and modern pieces choreographed by Jon Lehrer.

Battaglia could not have been more appreciative of her students in Chautauqua this summer. The students were not just a joy to have in class, but were also wonderful people outside of the classroom, she said.

“This is my 25th year at Chautauqua,” she said, “and this is one of the most talented group of classes, if not the most talented dancers we’ve ever had.”