Pioneer spirit: Chautauqua Dance prepares to ‘Go West!’

Video byYi-Chin Lee | Multimedia Editor
Chautauqua Dance Associate Artistic Director Mark Diamond created three choreographies for the Go West! production. Diamond explains how the three dance pieces fit into the story of Go West!

Chautauqua Dance is ready to Go West! with their guns a-blazing — at least according to Mark Diamond, the dance department’s choreographer for the collaborative arts project.

Diamond has spent months hard at work creating, teaching and rehearsing choreography for Go West! All that is left to do now is perform it alongside the contributions of the other art departments, a performance which Diamond anticipates being poignant and impressive.

“[Collaboration] is another way of showing what we can do,” Diamond said. “It’s a more impressive way because we can use all of our guns, all of our different art disciplines.”

Diamond’s role in this year’s inter-arts collaboration began when he was approached by the director of Go West!, Chautauqua Theater Company Associate Director Andrew Borba.

“He really designed the layout of the program completely,” Diamond said. “He spoke to me about what kind of music we might want to use, areas that we might want to use dance to depict. He definitely wanted to have a piece that depicted the approaching of the Rockies, just the monumental size of the mountains that the people had to deal with in their quest to go west.”

Tasked with the challenge of depicting the Rockies using only his dancers, Diamond sat down and choreographed the piece “Lewis and Clark Expedition.” Diamond said the dance is abstract and artistic, made particularly special by the fact that there is more than one pairing of Lewis and Clark — besides just the dancers, the characters are also portrayed by other performers, including actors and singers.

“You’ll see the image of the expedition — going in their boat, meeting Sacagawea, going through streams and climbing,” Diamond said. “They’re just trying to cope with the idea of surmounting the great Rockies.”

“Lewis and Clark Expedition” is one of two dances Diamond choreographed using Chautauqua School of Dance’s Apprentice dancers. The second is a number called “Buckaroo Holiday,” which falls at the end of Act I on the program.

“It’s really just a lot of fun,” Diamond said. “It’s cowboys and town folk and dance hall girls. It just shows the mythological, happy-go-lucky side … of the cowboys.”

According to Diamond, capturing the essence of American lore and transforming it into a tangible performance was an important goal of this production. Go West! is meant to be more than just a historical account of American history, and Diamond said Borba wanted to find a way to balance legend and fact.

“He wants to show different aspects of both the mythological and the reality, and also of different cultures,” Diamond said.

One way the dance department is integrating diverse cultures is through Diamond’s last piece of the show, a pas de deux that falls in the second half of the program. The duet is an abstract representation of a Native American couple, and will be danced by the Charlotte Ballet to the music of flutist Dan Hill of the Cayuga Nation.

“This pas de deux symbolizes the spirit of the Indians,” Diamond said.

The final effect of meshing dance with the Institution’s other arts programs will be a bit like a documentary, according to the choreographer. He said the first half of the show will be primarily chronological, while the second half may be a bit more loosely defined.

“It covers at least 200 years — maybe more,” Diamond said. “It shows all the different blocks of time and represents each of those moments where things are changing, and the things people had to overcome. It’s a pretty good show, and a pretty good representation of our program.”

Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, feels the same way. He said that the inter-arts project is special not only because it fosters contact and cooperation among the arts, but also because it also encourages interaction and amicability among the people and the artists in each program. The community that is built by such a project, he said, is something that seems to be a unique product of Chautauqua’s atmosphere.

“It’s just Chautauqua,” Bonnefoux said. “It’s what makes this evening strong — all the people know each other, trust each other. That’s why we can do an evening like this. That’s why this collaboration is possible.”