Dance Student Gala to round out weekend, season

Broadway productions and other theatrical performances outside the gates often run for weeks at a time. At Chautauqua Institution, many performances and lectures are seen by audiences only once.

The final School of Dance Gala performance this weekend will give the audience a chance to relive some of the dance performances from earlier in the season or catch any they might have missed the first time around.

At 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, dance students will present pieces from the first Student Gala, the Music School Festival Orchestra collaboration performance and Friday’s choreographic workshop — as well a few new pieces.

The Workshop II students, ages 13 to 14, will be performing four pieces, all choreographed by Associate Director of the School of Dance Maris Battaglia.

“Ocean Waves,” a piece choreographed to Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D is a peaceful contemporary ballet for the Workshop II girls. The piece contrasts Battaglia’s all-boys piece “Boy’s Night Out,” a Western-inspired piece to “Rodeo” from Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.”

Both “Boy’s Night Out” and “Ocean Waves” were performed at the first student gala. “Boy’s Night Out” was a particular favorite of the audience, so Battaglia decided to produce it again.

She also choreographed “Bach Concerto” and “Quatorze Danseurs” which Chautauqua audiences will see for the first time on Sunday.

“Bach Concerto” is a classical piece en pointe. Battaglia described “Quatorze Danseurs” as a cute and lighthearted partnering piece for seven girls and seven boys.

Both “Bach Concerto” and “Ocean Waves” have been performed at Chautauqua before, but Battaglia brought them back after they were performed at her studio in Buffalo, New York, The American Academy of Ballet, as part of her 50-year anniversary celebration.

The Festival and Apprentice dancers will also bring back dances from previous performances.

The students will be performing “In the Forest,” choreographed by faculty member Michael Vernon. “In the Forest” is based on a series of fables by La Fontaine that each present a different moral lesson.

The trio, “Odalisques,” an excerpt from “Le Corsaire,” highlights three of the older dancers in the dance program. The piece was stage by Patricia McBride and choreographed by Marius Petipa.

McBride also staged “Valse Fantasie,” choreographed by George Balanchine with music by Mikhail Glinka.

The piece is light and fairy-like, but also requires detailed precision by the dancers, McBride said.

Mark Diamond’s, insect ballet, “Into the Fray,” will also be performed during the gala. This contemporary ballet shows the viciousness of insects through striking movements.

There are some changes in casting for Diamond’s piece to give more students the opportunity to be featured as soloists, he said.

Pieces from Friday’s student choreographic workshop were chosen to be shown on the Amp stage as a representation of the student’s voices in the performance. Students will also have the chance to take a break from ballet with two hip-hop numbers choreographed by faculty member Rachel Humphrey.

The Student Gala is the last dance performance of the season before the students and company members head home.

Battaglia has had a lot of fun getting to know the students this summer and watching them in class and during performances, she said, adding that the balance of instruction and performances is a unique aspect of the Chautauqua dance program.

Battaglia has seen immense improvement in her students this season. She said this group of dancers has been one of the nicest and most enthusiastic she has seen in her 27 years at Chautauqua.

Diamond also said he has seen a dramatic improvement in his students’ technique this summer.

“Seeing the students go from a lower level of experience in technique and ability to appearing more professional both in the execution of the steps and also in performance quality is something that I see every year,” Diamond said.

The immersive structure of the program makes this improvement possible.

“They don’t have the distraction of going home or schoolwork or going out with friends,” Diamond said. “It’s dance all day, everyday.”

However, the intensive nature of the program does not take away from the fun that the students have during their stay in Chautauqua.

“It’s so nice to see how excited they get about Chautauqua,” Battaglia said. “They love the structure of all the classes and they have a freedom they wouldn’t get in a big city.”