For dancers, familiarity is key — familiarity with the movement, with her pointe shoes, with his physicality, with their partner; for Chautauqua School of Dance alumni, there’s an extra edge to being on the grounds — familiarity with their surroundings.
At 8:15 p.m. tonight, July 29, eight alumni will return to the Amphitheater stage — though now updated and modernized — for the Alumni Dance Gala, encoring their summers spent training as pre-professionals, for some, decades removed.
The returners have all had fruitful careers since leaving the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studios: 2006 alumna Jacqueline Green is with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; 2008 alumnus David Morse is with Cincinnati Ballet; and 2004 alumna Anna Gerberich is with Joffrey Ballet. Three of the night’s dancers are 2010 alumni: Angelica Generosa with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Jordan Leeper with Atlanta Ballet and Peter Leo Walker with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia,” said Leeper, who grew up in Jamestown. “I’m excited for (Chautauquans) to see my growth since the six years I’ve been absent from the Amphitheater stage.”
Green, along with guest artist and former-Ailey dancer Antonio Douthit-Boyd, will present two Ailey masterpieces: “Masekela Langage,” which draws parallels between apartheid and race-induced violence in Chicago, and the “Fix Me Jesus” pas de deux from “Revelations.”
Morse will be performing his own work titled “A Short Ride in a Fast Machine,” set to John Adams’ orchestral score of the same name. The quick-paced pas de deux is a “virtuosic, contemporary vision of a Don Quixote or a Swan Lake,” according to the School of Dance’s Director of Contemporary Studies Sasha Janes.
Morse, of Cincinnati, will be performing with his wife and Cincinnati Ballet company member Christina LaForgia Morse.
“It’s nice to have the alumni, but it’s also nice to sprinkle in some guests,” Janes said. “And sometimes you just have to because you don’t have the rehearsal time, so they need to bring repertoire they already know.”
Chautauqua “superstars” — in the words of Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts — Gerberich and Walker will present School of Dance faculty member Mark Diamond’s “Spartucus,” the story of the escaped gladiator slave who revolted against the Roman Empire.
“Spartucus” last graced the Amp stage in 2016, staged by Charlotte Ballet, and although this is the third rendition of the Alumni Dance Gala, it is the first time Diamond will render a work for the gala.
Two of Janes’ works are also on the bill: “Sketches from Grace” and a segment from a larger ballet he choreographed for Richmond Ballet. Leeper, of Atlanta, premiered “Sketches from Grace” and will perform it again tonight.
Leeper and peer Generosa will mount Tarantella, a witty and electric 1964-work by American ballet virtuoso George Balanchine. Leeper and Generosa are being coached by School of Dance director of ballet studies and master teacher and Balanchine’s contemporary, Patricia McBride. McBride danced in the original cast of Tarantella.
“(This) might be the most exciting thing we do in the dance program,” Moore said.
Additionally, Janes alluded to including School of Dance Festival and Apprentice dancers in the night’s production, likely segments from the week’s prior “Nutcracker in July” showcase.
“I really like to present not just the current dancers and alumni, but the future dancers as well,” Janes said. “It’s always a nice tie-in to have that.”
The Chautauqua Dance Circle will host a dance preview with select alumni and Janes at 7 p.m. tonight in Smith Wilkes Hall before the gala, and will host “Inside Chautauqua Dance Studios” at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studios.