Jumping ‘into the fray:’ School of Dance takes to Amp stage for season’s first Student Gala

Mark Diamond is known for his creative narratives, but his piece “Into the Fray,” choreographed for the School of Dance Student Gala, may spin his most creative web yet: The audience will be shrunk down to ant size and immersed in his “insect ballet.”

“Into the Fray” is one the ballets showcasing the students of the Chautauqua Dance program in the Student Gala at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

Diamond, associate director of Chautauqua Dance, modeled the movements for the piece on those of spiders, bees and ants. He was also inspired by the exoskeleton of insects, almost like armor, which has given the piece a combative feeling.

“Into the Fray” is made up of two movements. The first is a newly choreographed section for all the men and one woman, who acts as the queen in Diamond’s medieval court. The men are her drones, or soldiers, Diamond said.

The second movement takes place at a court intrigue and shows the viciousness and combativeness of insects.

“The movements are sharp and striking, like they are stinging someone,” Diamond said.

The costumes will give the look of long black spider legs, which the dancers’ pointe shoes will elongate further.

The piece, with music by Bartók, features both Apprentices and Chautauqua Festival Dancers.

School of Dance faculty member Michael Vernon will also take the audience to a new world. His new work, “In the Forest,” will transport the audience to the sylvan setting of some of Jean de La Fontaine’s fables. Dancers will portray the French fabulist’s characters and teach different moral lessons.

“You can sense slight storylines with each — without being too literal,” Vernon said.

One of the fables Vernon is using is the “Peacock and the Nightingale.” Each wants what the other has, the peacock, portrayed by a male dancer, has physical beauty, while the nightingale, a female dancer, has a beautiful voice.

Vernon said the fairytale world he is creating will also be reflected in the characters’ extreme and glamorous costumes.

He said has enjoyed choreographing a ballet with a more structured narrative and concept.

“I’ve had to research it and read La Fontaine,” Vernon said. “I had to find out interesting things, not just listen to music and create some abstract steps. It forces you to have a structure and have relationships between the dancers.”

Each year, Patricia McBride, master teacher and associate artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet, stages a work by George Balanchine for the students. This season’s selection is “Valse-Fantasie,” a fast-paced dance for one male dancer and five females set to music by Mikhail Glinka.

“They have to cover space, move and be free,” McBride said.

She added that she loves staging Balanchine works, but the style can initially be difficult for students.

“It’s daunting at first, but when they get it, it’s wonderful,” she said.

McBride is also staging “Odalisques” from the ballet Le Corsaire, the story of a pirate who falls in love with a slave girl named Medora. The Odalisques are three beautiful girls dancing for the Pasha.

McBride said she likes to have the students perform “Odalisques,” choreographed by Marius Petipa, because it gives them a chance to do solo work and take center stage.

“I love to give young students challenges because that is how they grow,” she said.

While the Chautauqua Festival Dancers and Apprentices have had a few weeks to rehearse, the Workshop II students only just arrived.

The Workshop II dancers will be performing in two pieces, one for the girls and one for the boys, choreographed by School of Dance faculty member, Maris Battaglia. The boys’ piece is a new work that is a “macho take on ‘Rodeo.’ ” The students have only had about six days to rehearse, but Battaglia is confident in their abilities.

“They are like little sponges,” she said.