The Chautauqua School of Dance is dedicated to fostering the natural talent in its students to compel them into a professional career, and when alumni return to talk about their success, it is particularly exciting.
At 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2, at Smith Wilkes Hall, Chautauqua School of Dance Director of Contemporary Studies Sasha Janes interviewed David Morse, an alumnus of the school and current dancer for the Cincinnati Ballet. The lecture was hosted by the Chautauqua Dance Circle as part of the Views on Pointe series in which dancers and directors give talks about performances and their backgrounds.
The talk was opened by Beverley Meer, current chair of the CDC, where she announced that the organization has raised and given $20,000 worth of scholarships this season to School of Dance students based on talent and need. Since the CDC’s conception, Meer said, it has raised over $174,000.
In addition to raising funds to give scholarships to dance students, Meer said that the CDC’s goal is “to have people within Chautauqua become more aware of dance” through its programming and events.
After the two speakers were introduced, Janes began the interview by asking how Morse came to begin dancing.
“My aunt actually gave me a VHS tape of a river dancing performance,” Morse said. “It just floored me.”
Morse began taking tap and ballet classes at the age of 3 in his hometown in the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Ballet eventually kind of took over,” Morse said.
When Morse was 10 years old, his mother offered to enroll him in classes with Charlotte Ballet, where he met Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, artistic director at the School of Dance, and Patricia McBride, School of Dance master teacher.
At first, Morse said, ballet classes seemed like a chore to him because it was a requirement to take ballet in tandem with any other dance classes. Eventually, he said, he found that he preferred ballet.
After taking two to three classes a week in Charlotte, Morse said that he began to dedicate even more time to training and increased his classes to five or six times a week after school. Once the school year ended, he decided to look for summer course options.
“The summer is when you realize who is dedicated and who is not,” he said. “Chautauqua came up as I was trying to decide what summer course to choose. Jean-Pierre and Mark Diamond talked to me about it. It seemed different than any of the other courses I had heard about.”
Morse said he particularly liked how Chautauqua’s summer program is dedicated and focused on performances and giving students the opportunity to perform on stage in front of live audiences.
“It is really helpful because, as a dancer, you need to know how to handle the before-stage jitters, dancing under lights, working with live music and all kinds of other things that you just don’t get in a rehearsal studio,” Morse said.
Morse began his training at the Chautauqua School of Dance during the 2008 season. Once he arrived, he said he was surprised and excited by how dance students are able to work with other musical and artistic students. For example, during the choreographic workshops, students are asked to find a student musician to provide the score for which they create a performance.
“The performance part of dance is steeped in a collaborative spirit,” Morse said. “It was inspiring to see because I was able to make those connections with other students right away and see how it all comes together.”
Once his courses with the School of Ballet ended, Morse was offered a job by Bonnefoux working with Charlotte Ballet II. He joined the company immediately, finishing his final two years of high school through online classes. He finished his schooling online while working with the company. Eventually, he joined the Charlotte Ballet
“I didn’t feel like I was ready,” he said. “But at the same time, I had this faith in (Bonnefoux) that he wouldn’t have given me the position if I wasn’t ready.”
Morse worked with the Charlotte Ballet for eight years before moving to his current position at the Cincinnati Ballet, where his wife also dances.
Recently, Morse has been delving into the art of choreography.
“Choreography has always been something I was interested in,” he said.
His world choreographic premiere is set for September. Morse also works as a pianist in his spare time. He has joined classes at the School of Dance as an accompanist each day this summer.
“I know as a dancer what an impact having good music in class is,” Morse said. “You simply can’t overstate it.”
After the discussion, there was a brief Q-and-A period in which the audience members asked a variety of questions, including about peer pressure as a male ballet dancer and training for lifts and leaps.
As for Morse’s future, he said he just wants to be a good fit for whatever company he works for.
“I just want to end up somewhere where I am serving the institution I’m working for, and they have the ability to serve me,” he said.