Spotlight Shines on Artistic Talents of Chautauqua’s Scholarship Students



For the 2016 season, approximately 300 students have been enrolled in the Schools of Fine & Performing Arts. Of those 300, nearly 80 percent were recipients of some form of financial aid, the average scholarship accommodating about 65 percent of the overall stay. Through generous commitments, Chautauqua was able to award nearly $720,000 in scholarships.

Hunger for competition is insatiable in many people. It is the same for students at Chautauqua, possibly more so, especially given the arduous process of auditioning for Chautauqua’s Schools of Fine & Performing Arts, let alone becoming a scholarship beneficiary.

On this page are glimpses of three talented and inventive individuals who were open to the call, accepted the challenge and were awarded a slice of the scholarship pie.

Cara Hansvick

Charlotte Ballet apprentice dancer Cara Hansvick is a recipient of The Chautauqua Dance Circle Scholarship.
Charlotte Ballet apprentice dancer Cara Hansvick is a recipient of The Chautauqua Dance Circle Scholarship.

A recent graduate of Indiana University, 21-year-old apprentice dancer Cara Hansvick, a recipient of The Chautauqua Dance Circle Scholarship, is in her second summer at Chautauqua Institution. Originally from Evanston, Illinois, Hansvick was familiar with the prestigious program offered at the Institution, often getting recommendations through her dance director at Indiana, Michael Vernon, also a choreographer at Chautauqua’s School of Dance. Having enjoyed her first year in the program, Hansvick chose to return for further enrichment.

“I decided to come because it has such a good reputation,” Hansvick said. “And I’m back this summer again because I got such good training here. I wanted to dance with the company and get a head start on my career.”

Accepted into the second company of the Charlotte Ballet, Hansvick can barely imagine the alternatives if she hadn’t received the assistance from the scholarship each year.

“I would have had to stay home and work and take dance classes where I [could],” Hansvick said. “But because I am funded to be here, it’s allowing me to continue to grow and improve as a student with the company that I’ll be dancing with in the future.”

One of the allures of Chautauqua’s School of Dance is its diverse approach to modern dance, not focusing solely on the methodologies of classical ballet.

“It’s a really big mix,” Hansvick said. “And I think that’s one of the things that’s special about this program. They encourage this more contemporary movement which a lot of these students don’t have because they’re from really strict ballet schools.”

Like in most of the arts schools in Chautauqua, time is valuable and fleeting in the School of Dance. Working Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m to sometimes 8 p.m. with occasional performances on Sunday, recuperation has become a desirable friend. But with the rigorous schedule comes a strong bonding of fellowship amongst the dancers, a quality of the program Hansvick has really taken to.

“Most of the time you’re so tired at the end of the day that most people just go to bed,” Hansvick said. “Go ice your feet and sleep. But on the weekends, people go to the beach, walk on the grounds, come to [Bestor Plaza or] get ice cream.”

Hansvick considers herself pretty normal, finding enjoyment in doodling and drawing, drinking coffee or going for a small walk. But in terms of interest in the art form, Hansvick speculates hers was based in part off a formula of natural selection.

“I was lucky enough to find something that I loved so much that I was good at,” Hansvick said. “I did a lot of things when I was younger, but I always came back to dance. And it really just makes me so happy. But from the beginning, I didn’t know I was going to be a dancer. Especially in these past three years, since last summer when I came here, that was almost the spark that really set me off and made me work 10 times harder.”

Hansvick wants to dance as long as she can professionally. Given that dancers are able to perform longer nowadays than they ever have, room for growing and improving is all she has on her mind.

“There’s always room for growth, whether that’s physical or artistically,” Hansvick said. “I don’t ever want to plateau. I want to keep going up. Eventually I want to be in a first company somewhere. Hopefully at Charlotte, but if not, I just want to keep dancing.”

Amanda Lynn Bottoms poses for a portrait on Monday, July 25, 2016, on the porch of Logan Hall. Bottoms is a mezzo-soprano in the Voice Progam at Chautauqua and is currently finishing her master's degree at The Juilliard School. Photo by Carolyn Brown.
Amanda Lynn Bottoms poses for a portrait on Monday, July 25, 2016, on the porch of Logan Hall. Bottoms is a mezzo-soprano in the Voice Progam at Chautauqua and is currently finishing her master’s degree at The Juilliard School. Photo by Carolyn Brown.

Amanda Lynn Bottoms

Growing up, Amanda Lynn Bottoms considered herself a bit of a bookworm. But sometime in middle school, for reasons unbeknownst to the universe or Bottoms (or maybe just Bottoms), she decided to try out for the school talent show. Fair to say, no one but the eyes of fate could have seen the talent begging to be released from her lungs.

Returning for her second year to Chautauqua Institution, Bottoms, 24, a native of Cheektowaga, New York, is a mezzo-soprano in the School of Music Voice Program, as well as a student at The Juilliard School, where she’ll complete her master’s degree next year. A recipient of the Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club Award, she also received the Chautauqua Golf Club Scholarship Fund, The Elizabeth & Jack Gellman and Deborah & Allen Zaretsky Scholarship Fund and the General Scholarship.

She continues to practice and perform under the mentorship and direction of Voice Program Chair Marlena Malas. Malas, who also teaches at Juilliard, was one of the reasons Bottoms heard of Chautauqua in the first place. And it certainly left its mark.

“We have a great coaching staff who really nitpick and get the fine details out there,” Bottoms said. “They really make sure that we’re offering the best product we can, that we’re putting our best foot forward. And it’s a great place to be because I’m able to do the roles that I will realistically be singing within the next couple years.”

One of the unique features of Chautauqua Bottoms has found advantageous is the opportunity to be included in full-fledged productions. Whereas elsewhere, singers may only be able to do snippets of scenes or small recitals, at Chautauqua, they go the whole nine yards with complete orchestra and piano accompaniment. And with further engagement through the community and things such as the Chautauqua Connections program, Bottoms finds the whole experience to go beyond simply the stage, ingraining itself within the grounds.

In terms of the future, Bottoms, who thrives on the platform of academia, knows there will come a moment where a choice will have to be made. To solely do the job she loves, either in the smallest of houses or most prestigious in the world, would be enough for her. But incorporating an element of community engagement has a strong appeal.

Bottoms often visits Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York to introduce young children to things such as opera, as many of them otherwise might never hear such music ever in their lifetimes.

“It was just very interesting to see their faces light up or to see them plugging their ears,” Bottoms said. “That’s so important to me, beyond performance, just using what we have, the gifts that we’re given and we’re developing, and using it to open up someone else’s world. That’s the most important thing to me.”

Zachary Ragent

An alumnus of the University of Michigan, violinist Zachary Ragent, originally from San Mateo, California, happened upon Chautauqua Institution and the School of Music in a way that, on second glance, doesn’t appear all too unusual for artists on the grounds. His violin instructor at Michigan, Aaron Berofsky, was also a member of the violin facility at the Institution, smoothly bridging the 303-mile distance between Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Chautauqua.

A recipient of the Anna Mary and Richard M. Maddy Music Scholarship Fund, Ragent received four partial scholarships, which include the Everett and Sarah Holden McLaren Scholarship, Pennybacker Memorial Scholarship and a General Scholarship.

In his second summer at the Institution, Ragent splits his time between teaching and performing. If his cards are dealt right, that’s exactly what he hopes to do for the rest of his life.

“It’s funny because it’s basically what I’m doing at Chautauqua now,” Ragent said. “Some combination of everything that I’m doing here, but paid opportunities. That’s what I hope my professional life will be.”

The progeny of a fellow musician, Ragent feels endless encouragement from both his father, a French hornist, and his mother.

“There’s definitely fields where you can be employed full-time by the time you’re 26, rather than still sitting in a practice room,” Ragent said. “But [my parents] have been extremely supportive of my endeavors.”

Between a laborious schedule of orchestral auditions and giving lessons, Ragent finds spare time for recreational running and, at least once a week, acting as an Amphitheater usher.

“They definitely keep us busy here, which is good,” Ragent said. “But also, you’ve got access to a lot of wonderful faculty and the place has a lot going on.”

Many artists can remember an artistic epiphany, a moment of sudden brilliance and direction, but Ragent’s is one for the books.

At the age of 5, Ragent picked up the violin because of Bugs Bunny’s resourcefulness and his older brother’s cruelty.

There had been an episode of “Looney Tunes” where Elmer Fudd was about to shoot Bugs Bunny. At the last minute, Bugs pulled out a violin and screeched on it. The sound reverberated so terribly that it shocked Fudd, causing his shot to go wide and allowing Bugs to scurry off.

“I think I made some sort of equivalency between my brother always trying to kill me and Elmer Fudd trying to kill Bugs Bunny,” Ragent said. “I took [violin] up in self-defense, at least to start. If my 5-year-old self had known what it entailed later on, there probably would have been better ways to stop my brother. [But] since then, I squeak less.”

Joshua Gurian

The author Joshua Gurian

Joshua Gurian is a graduate of Binghamton University Class of 2015, with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. He currently lives as a freelance writer in Chicago.