Youngest dance students to showcase versatility

BRIA GRANVILLE | Staff Photographer
Students from the School of Dance’s Workshop I will give a studio performance at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio.

Upon peering into the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio during a dance rehearsal, it would be difficult to guess that some of the dancers are only 11 years old.

The youngest dancers in Chautauqua Institution’s School of Dance will hold an informal performance at the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio at 1 p.m. Saturday after spending only two weeks in Chautauqua.

The audience for the performance usually consists mostly of family and friends of the students, but it is open to the public as well.

The Workshop I program is designed for students who wish to pursue careers as professional dancers. The students spend their days working intensively on their technique in classes and rehearsals. Each day, they dance for up to six hours, taking ballet technique, hip-hop, character and pointe classes.

Workshop II dancers will arrive for their five-week program shortly after the Workshop I dancers depart. These dancers, ages 13 to 14, are slightly older and will have a few more performance opportunities in Chautauqua.

The 26 Workshop I dancers, ages 11 to 12, will be performing two group pieces choreographed by dance faculty member Sarkis Kaltakchian on Saturday.

Kaltakchian said he likes to create works for the students that foster friendship and teamwork.

“I always try to do group work because I want them to learn to dance together as a community, to support each other and enjoy dancing together,” he said.

The first is a classical piece to music by Mozart. The dance is full of classical lines and shifting formations. Kaltakchian said he usually choreographs a separate dance for the boys, but the music in the piece — especially the French horn — reminded him of a men’s dance.

“When I heard the music, it was very interesting,” he said. “I thought of it as collaborating the boys and girls together in the same dance.”

The second piece is a character dance set to traditional Russian folk music. The piece is fast-paced with sharp footwork that requires precision from all the dancers.

Many of the students have never experienced character dance before coming to Chautauqua. Because of this, Kaltakchian said he often has to teach his students the technique of the steps while choreographing the dance at the same time. While this might seem like a daunting task, Kaltakchian said the students are talented and are able to pick up the steps quickly.

“It’s very energetic, and I tried to showcase their technique and introduce them to traditional Russian folk dance as well,” he said.

Though the students are only on the ground for two weeks, Kaltakchian said they learn an immense amount in that short period of time.

“By the end of the second week, they always surprise me,” he said.

Kaltakchian tries to highlight the students’ strengths in his choreography but also wants them to come away with new knowledge of different dance styles.

“It is my goal to teach them as many different styles and different ways of moving as possible,” he said. “The more ways their bodies move, the more versatile they become as dancers.”

He hopes his students are able to take home with them both improved technical skills and a joy and passion for dance.

“I want them to work very hard, but at the same time I want them to love the art form,” he said. “I want them to understand that hard work is a part of the passion. It’s part of the reward at the end of the day when you perform well and feel you have improved.”