Music Made Visible: MFSO, School of Dance present annual collaboration

Story by Georgie Silvarole & Hayley Ross

George Balanchine once said “Dance is music made visible.” The two art forms go hand in hand, similar to the friendship that has developed between the schools of Dance and Music at Chautauqua.

At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, the Music School Festival Orchestra and Chautauqua Festival Dancers will come together for a collaborative event that will combine both specialties.

Shizuo “Z” Kuwahara, music director of the Symphony Orchestra Augusta, will guest conduct tonight’s performance. The program includes Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, movements 2 and 4; Sergei Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony”; and Charles Gounod’s “Faust: Walpurgisnacht.”

The dancers will perform pieces previously featured in the July 19 School of Dance Student Gala.

Mark Diamond’s “Into the Fray” is set to the Bartók piece and is a contemporary “insect ballet” based on the movements of spiders, bees and ants. The combative piece danced by Festival and Apprentice dancers takes place in a medieval court.

“I really enjoy ‘Into the Fray’ because it has a contemporary spin to it that I feel is more suited to me as a dancer,” said Festival Dancer Isabelle Ramey.

Kuwahara said the Bartók piece is challenging for the MSFO — it’s a work often used in professional orchestra auditions.

“This is a very difficult program,” Kuwahara said. “These are very good pieces to work on, but very difficult, and they have to have it under their fingers to be ready to manipulate it when the dancers are on stage.

So that’s the challenge.”

For violinist Stelth Ng, this is the most rewarding performance of the season.

“The dance collaboration was one of my top favorite concerts. They have fantastic programming here, but I think it was really the fact that they visualize what we do,” Ng said. “They have amazing choreography. Mark Diamond — his choreography is spectacular . . . But he is so aware of these rhythms and how they can translate into vision.”

There is a balance between music and movement, Ng said, that is demonstrated in a collaboration like this.

“We spend so much of our time in front of black dots, essentially. And then it’s our job to make that into sound,” Ng said. “The sounds that we make, they inspire the dancers and their movements, but in fact, their movements are a representation of maybe what was going on in the composer’s mind. What they visualize is very much in the same mental mindset as what we musicians visualize to inspire ourselves.”

Ng said he’s made great friends with the students outside of his own discipline. The friendships between programs help create an understanding of the work that goes into this performance.

“I’ve found a lot of friends in the dance program, and I connect very well with them because it’s so refreshing,” Ng said. “They have to be up and about, and they have a lot more at risk. Just the amount of discipline that they have is so inspiring.”

Apprentice dancer Caroline Atwell and Ng have been friends since last summer, his first season at Chautauqua Institution.

“Many of us are close friends because we get to live together for seven weeks, so it’s really great that we get to work on something together,” Atwell said.

Atwell will be performing the character of the swan in School of Dance faculty member Michael Vernon’s lighthearted piece, “In the Forest.”

Set to Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony,” “In the Forest” is based on Jean de La Fontaine’s fables. The ballet, danced by both Festival and Apprentice dancers, is based on five of La Fontaine’s stories, which each convey a different moral lesson.

“Valse Fantasie” is choreographed by Balanchine and staged by master teacher Patricia McBride. The piece features romantic tutus and quick footwork and is danced by one male dancer and five female dancers with music by Mikhail Glinka.

“It has such a fairy-like quality to it that is unparalleled in any other piece I have ever performed,” Ramey said.

McBride is also staging the “Odalisques,” trio from the ballet Le Corsaire. Choreographed by Marius Petipa, Le Corsaire is the story of a pirate who falls in love with a slave girl named Medora.

“As a whole, this ballet contains a lot of contrast; while the lower body has to move very quickly, the port de bras has to seem almost effortless,” Atwell said. “It challenges us to find coordination for all the movements including the transition steps and entrances on and off stage.”

Atwell said the excitement of the students vibrates within the walls of Bellinger Hall.

“It’s fun to be able to come home at night and hear the musicians practicing the pieces from the practice rooms or humming them as they walk down the halls,” Atwell said.  “It’s like the whole dorm is preparing for the performance.”