It’s not easy to share the stage.
But, in a collaborative effort between the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and Charlotte Ballet in Residence, the two powers will prove that it can be done.
The two will perform at 8:15 p.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater with guest conductor Grant Cooper.
What connects the symphony and dance, especially in this performance, is an emphasis on tempo.
“If [the tempo] gets too slow, it can just can sort of take the energy out of it. If it gets too fast, it gets too hard to do,” said Sasha Janes, resident faculty of Chautauqua Dance. “Tempo is essential, and that’s the one thing you have complete control of if you’re using a CD, you know exactly what the tempo is going to be. So this way the dancers … have to know the music like the back of their hand and be ready to adjust according to it.”
Mark Diamond, resident faculty of Chautauqua Dance, said only one full rehearsal will occur before the performance, which can be “frightening.” However, the overall impression between the cohesive units can make an impact.
“I believe that dancers dance much better with live music because they get inspired,” said Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director of Chautauqua Dance. “They don’t get the same tempo and same way they’ve heard it everyday so they have to even be more present with the music, closer to the music.”
Given that tempo is so important to ballet dancers, Cooper said, it makes the role of conductor critical in establishing the correct tempo and being sensitive to what the dancers need.
“With a regular symphony or opera or soloist, the orchestra can hear other musicians with whom they are collaborating,” Cooper said. “With the ballet, there is no reliable oral confirmation of the tempo of the music and that is because the ballet dancers with all of their steps don’t make sounds that represent the tempo or rhythm of the music.”
Cooper stands in charge of the whole night. The tempo and mood of orchestra, which in turn will affect the dancers, will all be determined by the flick of his baton.
It took Cooper until halfway through an engineering degree to discover his true talent.
“I realized I could communicate with people in a much more profound way through music than in any other aspect of human communication,” Cooper said.
Cooper, who has been guest conducting in collaboration with dance at Chautauqua for several years, studied and played with the Cleveland Orchestra and New York Philharmonic.
He became a music professor at SUNY Fredonia in 1982. A year later, he said, he took the role of conductor. In 1993, he took a conducting position at Ithaca College.
The performance will be separated into four different ballets: “The Overtures,” “We Danced Through Life [excerpt],” “Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa” and “Bolero.” All four have been performed prior to tonight’s show.
“For a dancer, going back to roles is so healthy for them because they are able to focus on nuances that maybe they missed on the first time around,” Janes said. “As a dancer, I always loved going back and doing the same role over and over again. Doing Romeo, I could never do it enough because I could always find something new.”
The first ballet is choreographed by Bonnefoux, and was originally choreographed for the Metropolitan Opera dancers. It takes on a classical and traditional tone, with the women en pointe. The 25-minute ballet will feature three overtures with music by Hector Berlioz.
“The orchestration in the Amphitheater will be perfect for the depth of that music,” Bonnefoux said.
The second, “We Danced Through Life” choreographed by Janes, was a commissioned work by Chautauquan Terrie Vaile Hauck, and features one movement en pointe of the original three-movement ballet. The movement features a pas de deux that showcases the love between Terrie and her late husband, Jimmy, to music by Antonin Dvořák.
“There were no parameters about the piece, about what it had to be about, about anything,” Janes said. “Her family wanted to celebrate his life by creating a ballet, by creating art, which is just a fantastic thing.”
Janes also choreographed the third piece, “Lascia la Spina, Cogli la Rosa,” originally for himself and his wife, Rebecca.
“Jean-Pierre had asked me to do a pas de deux with my wife for Chautauqua and I had never planned with being a choreographer or doing any choreography but since he asked me — I didn’t feel obligated — but I wanted to accept the challenge,” Janes said.
The ballet is a pas de deux between a woman and a grim reaper, looking toward death, as the title of the song loosely translates to “pick the rose, leave the thorn.” Janes said his voice teacher showed him the piece of music by Handel and he was he was struck by it, which Cooper said is “case-and-point a piece that just strikes the choreographer … in a certain aesthetic way.”
The piece will also feature singing by soprano Elena Perroni, who feels the pressure of keeping the tempo constant along with the other performers, adding that it’s a skill that will be valuable for her career in classical signing.
“It’s only challenging because … the boundaries are slightly stricter, in terms of … freedom with the music,” Perroni said. “You can interpret it, but you have to do it within a smaller box.”
The night will end with a Spanish flair with Diamond’s “Bolero.” The en pointe ballet depicts young women luring men until all the tension is released in a burst of passion. That feeling is exemplified with the nature of the music by Maurice Ravel.
“The tempo in ‘Bolero’ never changes,” Diamond said. “It’s the same all the way through except it gets louder.”
The collaboration between dance and CSO, Cooper said, exemplifies what Chautauqua Institution stands for.
“I think that is a really wonderful thing when you can both see and hear a piece of art performed,” Cooper said.