Dance choreography workshop: by students, for students

All summer long, studios and stages throughout Chautauqua Institution have been graced by dancers moving through professional choreography.

This afternoon, Chautauquans will have the opportunity to see many of these same dancers take the stage again — only this time, they will be dancing steps choreographed by their own fellow students.

The Chautauqua School of Dance’s annual choreographic workshop will take place at 4 p.m. today at McBride Studio, located in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio.

Today’s performance will showcase nine different student-created and student-danced pieces, each of which will range in length from five to eight minutes. Each student choreographer is responsible for choosing the music for his or her dance, recruiting other students to partake in that piece and organizing rehearsals.

According to one student choreographer, Rickey Flagg II, while Chautauqua Dance staff members whittled down the number of student choreographers to nine, there were originally about 18 students interested in choreographing. Mark Diamond, associate artistic director of Chautauqua Dance, was instrumental in getting the students involved, Flagg said.

“He drew out the shy students,” he said. “I appreciate that, because there are people who need to be pulled out of their shells. There are people that probably have good ideas, but they’re just too shy and insecure to put themselves out there. When I first started dancing, I was definitely one of those people. Sometimes I still am.”

This is Flagg’s first summer at Chautauqua. He joined Chautauqua’s dance program as an apprentice dancer and was recently accepted into the second company of the Charlotte Ballet. He is choreographing a piece that features four girls and two boys, set to a Max Richter remix of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Spring No. 3. According to Flagg, he’s been waiting to put choreography to this music for the last two years, after first hearing it at the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

“When I heard it, it made me want to dance,” Flagg said. “Now I’m getting the opportunity to choreograph and actually put my own ideas to the music.”

Most of the student-choreographed pieces will be abstract rather than narrative dances, Flagg said. He added that Diamond encouraged the students to really focus on the actual dancing for now, rather than getting lost in a plotline.

“He said, ‘Try to get away from the story,’ ” Flagg said. “He wants us to focus on the movement and expanding our movement vocabulary.”

Forsaking a plotline may be for the best, because the student choreographers have a lot of other things to worry about in a very limited timeline. Students have only had roughly three weeks to choreograph, organize and rehearse their dances, Flagg said. Since dancers all have different class and rehearsal times, it is nearly impossible to practice regularly — Flagg said he’s lucky if he gets to rehearse more than once a week for longer than 15 or 30 minutes at a time.

Besides timing issues, Flagg said that one of the biggest challenges of being a student choreographer is not only having to choreograph the steps, but having to transform into a teacher in the studio as well.

“Typically, I like to do what feels good on my body, which can be good or bad depending on the dancers,” Flagg said. “Sometimes, what feels good on your body doesn’t feel good on someone else’s body. At first you give them a step, and they look at you like you have 10 heads. You have to coach them through it until something clicks. And that’s what you have to do as a teacher: draw out of your dancers what you need them to do. When you see them finally get it, it’s really exciting.”

Flagg said that his new roles as a choreographer and a teacher have been made much easier thanks to his fellow dancers. Their unwavering commitment and support helps dispel any discouragement he may feel, he said.

“I love my dancers, they’re wonderful,” Flagg said. “I feel a lot of support from them, which is really helpful as a choreographer. I really appreciate the commitment from them.”