Chautauqua Dance prepares for a night of innovation

Provided photo

At a time when audiences, dancers and choreographers alike might be falling into the lull of Chautauqua’s mid-season slump, Chautauqua Dance’s “Innovations” night will attempt to shake off the last vestiges of dormancy.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, audiences will have the chance to witness the Charlotte Ballet push dance into an area of creative discomfort. The company hopes that they will metamorphose into the unexpected and the enlightened.

“ ‘Innovations’ is a night where we’re presenting something slightly out of the box — something new, something maybe people haven’t seen before,” said choreographer Sasha Janes. “Hopefully, we’re creating something that the regular ballet hasn’t seen.”


Perhaps the most innovative performance is the world premiere of a piece simply titled “Environment.” The dance marks a series of firsts: the first time it has debuted in its entirety, the first time choreographers Janes and Mark Diamond have truly collaborated, and the first time the Charlotte Ballet will be accompanied by the self-conducted orchestra, A Far Cry.

“It starts with an image of genesis, or Mother Earth,” Diamond said. “I don’t mean genesis in a biblical way — I mean the Big Bang. It starts with the creation of man and then goes to different modes of environment that match the music and mood. There’s different environments that could be interpreted: social environments, geographical environments, psychological environments.”

According to Diamond, dancers will portray such abstract concepts as water, clouds, night, storms and humanity. Their movement will be captured and shadowed by the symphonic fluctuations in “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge,” played by the 18 members of A Far Cry.

A Far Cry first performed this piece in 2012, when they participated in Chautauqua’s Logan Chamber Music Series.

According to Marty Merkley, vice president and director of programming, that performance was an instigator for innovation.

“When we heard that piece, Kay Logan and I said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be great if we could choreograph to that?’” Merkley said. “Then I approached the dance department and asked Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux if someone would be interested in choreographing this piece.”

Logan, a Chautauquan and longtime benefactor to its arts programs, agreed to fund the residency of A Far Cry at Chautauqua to play the song for the ballet program. Her donation is a special gift to Chautauqua that everyone will be able to enjoy, Merkley said.

“We don’t normally have live music at dance innovations,” Diamond said. “It’s always a luxury to have live music, so this is a great opportunity.”

“Environment” is also unique because it marks one of the first true collaborations between choreographers Janes and Diamond.

“We’ve never done a collaboration like this before,” Janes said. “We’ve collaborated on an evening before, but we’ve always had our own pieces within the evening. To collaborate on a single, unified piece is quite different for us. We had no idea how it was going to turn out.”

The process began by each picking their favorite bits of music, choosing the dancers they wanted to work with, and doing some choreography separately in Charlotte, Janes said. Then, as they began choreographing in Chautauqua, the process became more integrated.

“When we got to Chautauqua and started working on the final section, [Diamond] would say, ‘You go,’ ” Janes said. “And I would start choreographing, and after 32 counts or so I would say, ‘Now it’s your turn.’ It was basically tag-team.”

Excerpts of “Environment” were first performed in Week One at the Chautauqua Dance Salon. Tonight will be the first time the dance is performed publicly in its full 11-movement entirety.

“It was true collaboration, the way we got to work together like that,” Janes said. “Mark and I have known each other for about 15 years, so we’re familiar with each other’s style and it wasn’t too difficult. And we have such a great working relationship, so from that point of view, it was always going to be easy.”

Sit In, Stand Out

“Sit In, Stand Out” is another piece that experiments with unconventional themes and elements of dance. Created by Dwight Rhoden, resident choreographer and artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the piece deals with the historical context of the American civil rights movement.

Rhoden is known for his contemporary movement and pushing past the confines of classical ballet. But his dance tonight will be innovative in more than just its movement: it will also experiment with technology, using digital projection to display photos from the era.

“It has some serious material in it,” Diamond said. “It starts with some projection images of people who were doing sit-ins in the ’60s, and people who were involved with the civil rights movement. And then it goes on to have some sort of lamenting dance about the tragedies that happened and the difficulties of the ’60s.”

Excerpts from “Sit In, Stand Out” were originally performed in Week Five as part of Chautauqua’s “Evening of Pas de Deux,” but tonight will be the first time a Chautauqua audience has the opportunity to see more than just a duet. Besides having the chance to see more quantitatively, however, Janes also thinks tonight’s audience will get to see more qualitatively.

“It’s always great to see the dancers have a second performance of a piece,” Janes said. “So often in Chautauqua we work so hard on a piece, and they get one shot at it on stage. It’s nice if you can re-visit a piece, because it actually grows quite a bit from one performance to the next.”


“Chaconne” is a number that was choreographed by Janes only six month ago. It features seven dancers, music by Johann Sebastian Bach and, most notably, a black ribbon curtain.

“When I did it, I wanted what was a called a ‘fringe’ curtain,” Janes said. “A fringe curtain usually goes upstage, and it’s a good way to make dramatic entrances. So we actually made our own black ribbon curtain. I’m excited to see that on a real stage.”

According to Janes, the visual intent of the black curtain is that when dancers make their entrance onstage, it will look as if they’ve appeared out of thin air. In order to accomplish this, Janes has choreographed all entrances and exits to be made upstage — through the curtain — and not from the wings.

“It’s a very beautiful and complex piece,” Diamond said. “It’s an abstract ballet, and a wonderful piece of choreography.”

There Again Not Slowly

The evening’s bill also includes a number choreographed solely by Diamond, called “There Again Not Slowly.” With music by Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin, the dance is bound to be edgier than a traditional ballet.

“It’s a very upbeat piece. It’s mostly club music,” Diamond said. “The dancers actually call it ‘Party People.’ It’s probably one of my favorite pieces.”

The piece begins with various solos and small group combinations among its six dancers. Then it moves into a pas de deux that Diamond said was originally danced by Janes, partnered with his wife, Rebecca Carmazzi.

“Wednesday is going to be the first time someone else is going to dance that pas de deux,” Diamond said.

The third movement of the piece closes off the dance with more frenzied party beats and will fade into the first pause of the evening’s performance. As the first dance on the evening’s repertoire, “There Again Not Slowly” is responsible for providing the audience with a portal into the rest of the evening’s creativity, quirkiness and originality.

“ ‘Innovations’ is always an interesting evening,” Janes said. “You’re getting four ballets for the price of one, really. And they’re all quite different from one another: some on soft shoes, some on pointe shoes, some more classically inclined, some more contemporary. So I think everyone’s going to walk away liking at least 25 percent of the program — although, really, I hope it’s more like 95 percent.”