Dance students prepare for farewell performance

Kreable Young | Staff Photographer
The School of Dance students will present their final gala at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

All summer, the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio has almost been a living entity all its own. The porch has pulsed with the rhythm of dancers stretching and shuffling to class, choreographers bustling in and out of offices, and loose strains of piano melodies wafting from the studio’s interior.

But by this time next week, the porch will be empty, office doors will be shut, and the pianos will draw silent.

This weekend marks the last opportunity for the community to enjoy the talents of Chautauqua’s student dancers before their season concludes. The second annual Student Gala, which features both workshop and festival students, will take place at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

Sunday’s gala will feature a wide array of dances, including a Rachael Humphrey hip-hop number, excerpts from Mark Diamond’s Go West!, excerpts from several classical ballets, selections from Friday’s choreographic workshop and five dances under the instruction of Maris Battaglia, resident faculty at the Chautauqua School of Dance. These dances include a character piece, an all-boy dance titled “Boys Will be Boys” and a dance inspired by the Institution itself, called “A Walk by Chautauqua Lake.”

Battaglia has been working with the Workshop II students — dancers aged 12 to 14 — for five weeks this summer, teaching primarily ballet classes. Battaglia said it is important to give young dancers a solid foundation in ballet, because it is the basis for all other genres of dance. She compared ballet to the trunk of a tree, with the other styles — lyrical, jazz, hip-hop, modern — as its branches.

“You see how good it all looks when you’ve had ballet, when you’ve had the trunk,” Battaglia said. “It’s harder in today’s world, because you have the influence of TV — of MTV and ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ Kids just want to be rockstars and they don’t always have the patience to learn the basics. But when you’ve had that ballet technique, you can branch out and do anything.”

Battaglia said her students this year have thrown themselves into the technique of classical ballet with enthusiasm and a good work ethic. She said that the energy and avidness to learn that her students bring to the studio is one of her favorite things about working with young dancers.

“I love the younger dancers because they’re still so open,” Battaglia said. “This group is just like little sponges. They absorb everything. There’s not one kid in that group that I haven’t seen a really big improvement from.”

Chautauqua’s student dancers come from all over the nation, with students’ hometowns this year ranging from New York City, the West Coast, the South, the Midwest, and more local areas like Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Despite their varied backgrounds, Battaglia said her students have come together more than ever this summer, unified by a sense of camaraderie and similar skill levels.

“They all get along; there have been absolutely no problems this year,” Battaglia said. “They’re a wonderful group of kids, and they’re all extremely talented and enthusiastic. I like this group because they’re all pretty much at the same skill level and they’re all hard workers. They’ve been a joy, inside and out.”

Battaglia expects Sunday’s performance to draw a large crowd, partly because many of the students’ families will be in attendance, but also because it is the last chance for Chautauquans to see the school’s young dancers perform. Not only is their youth and energy a crowd pleaser, she said, but many Chautauquans like to see today’s student dancers because they will be tomorrow’s professional dancers.

“It’s usually a very good audience because people love to see the little kids,” Battaglia said. “They’re the future of the Charlotte Ballet. If you look at the Charlotte Ballet, they’ve got dancers there that they found here, in Chautauqua.”

While the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio has been buzzing this week with excitement and frantic last-minute arrangements for Sunday’s recital, Battaglia said the muted aftermath of the performance will be bittersweet. When the student dancers leave for the summer, the grounds tend to hush and settle in a way that might make Chautauquans ache for the return of the students’ vivacity. Even so, she said, all good things must come to an end.

“It’s always sad to put a period at the end of a sentence,” Battaglia said. “But for most of the teachers, they have to go back, and the students have to go home and start school. It’s so sad to leave, but at the same point, you know that it’s time.”