Dance students return for encore at Chautauqua

At 16, Kali Oliver is a veteran of the Chautauqua Dance program. She began her dance training in the Workshop I program five summers ago.

She is one of the many Chautauqua Institution School of Dance students who visit summer after summer to hone their craft.

Oliver dances at a small studio in Akron, Ohio, and will enter her junior year of high school in the fall. She returns to continue her training with the faculty members and company members of the Charlotte Ballet.

She chose the program at 12 years old because it was only 2½ hours away from home, and her parents felt it was a safe environment.

“The performance opportunities and getting to interact with a professional company is something I don’t get at home,” Oliver said.

Also returning for an encore is Isabelle Ramey, a 16-year-old Chautauqua Festival dancer.

Ramey said she knew the Institution was the right place for her when she was accepted to the program. She participated in the Workshop II program in 2013 and returned this summer after a year away from Chautauqua.

“The training is grueling, and the hours are tough, but I feel like the experience is preparing me for what I will endure in the future,” Ramey said.

Glenda Lucena, ballet mistress of the School of Dance, said she thinks students come back because they aspire to be like the older dancers in the program.

The dance program has four levels, ranging from ages 11 to 20: Workshop I, Workshop II, Chautauqua Festival dancers, and Company Apprentice dancers.

“They want to keep moving up the ranks,” Lucena said.

Bianca Allanic, 19, grew up attending different summer programs every year, but Chautauqua was the one that stuck. She came to Chautauqua last year as an apprentice and returned this year for her second summer.

Allanic, originally from Miami, is a ballet major at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.

Caroline Atwell, also a ballet major at IU, studied at the Charlotte Ballet Academy in North Carolina before going to college, but she said training in Chautauqua gave her more professional experience.

“This was the first time I felt that I was really performing alongside the professionals instead of behind them,” she said.

Chautauqua School of Dance faculty member Michael Vernon serves as chair of the ballet department at IU. Because he doesn’t get the opportunity to choreograph for students very often during the year, Vernon was excited to have dancers from the university come to Chautauqua this season. It has given him a chance to get to know them better, he said.

He also said the program is great for freshmen and sophomores in college. As juniors and seniors, students start to look for professional opportunities, so Chautauqua is a good place for the slightly younger students to get a taste of life in a professional company and train in an intensive environment.

Oliver, Ramey, Allanic and Atwell all someday aspire to dance professionally.

Oliver’s dream is to someday dance with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and she believes Chautauqua is getting her closer to that dream.

Allanic said the Chautauqua Dance program has been her favorite — but also the most challenging and fulfilling — summer intensive. She also enjoys getting to experience all the art forms at Chautauqua.

“You’re in a beautiful place surrounded by friendly people and the very best of all the arts,” she said. “It’s such a special, inspiring environment for a young artist to learn and grow.”