Dance, MSFO students to perform in Choreographic Workshop

Chautauqua is known for its Schools of Fine and Performing Arts, and its mission of collaboration and learning. This weekend, the Schools of Dance and Music are coming together in a unique workshop to showcase those values. 

The schools’ history of working together continues with an Original Choreography Collaboration at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studio. Dance students, with chamber groups from the Music School Festival Orchestra, will perform pieces choreographed by their peers, with music, costumes and stagings they’ve selected themselves. Seating is limited to 50 people, and masks are required. 

“The Choreographic is an opportunity for dance students to get some experience on the other side of the room and see what else goes into making a piece, not just the perspective of what it means to be the dancer,” said Rachel Nash, a second-year dance student at Chautauqua. “It’s also a chance for them to learn about other disciplines, like music, which is so essential to choreography.”

Georgia Pressley / staff photographer Chautauqua School of Dance students Rachel Nash and Pierce Gallagher rehearse a piece Wednesday in the Carnahan Jackson Dance Studios. The piece was choreographed by student Mia Steedle, who previously danced with Kansas City Ballet and Boston Ballet.

The performance will feature six pieces ranging from four to seven minutes; four will include live chamber music. The dancer/choreographers selected music from the chamber students’ repertoire. The program includes piano quintets from Dvořák, Shostakovich, Franck and Brahms, a quintet from American jazz saxophonist and composer George Coleman, and Dvořák’s Terzetto in C Major. Picking from the repertoire was helpful, said fourth-year School of Dance student Emily Hain.

“We have some structure, but we also have the creativeness of what to do with what we were given,” Hain said. “It was a really interesting experience, and I wanted to throw myself into it.”

For some dancers, this is their first time choreographing, which offers a new way to explore their craft. 

“I love being able to make it completely my work, but also giving it to the dancers because they’re just so receptive of everything you say,” Hain said. “… They make it their own as they rehearse it more and more. I love just watching them take on everything that I give them with open arms.”

Maddie Tyler, a first-year dance student, said the most rewarding part of the Choreographic is working with her dance cohort peers, who have rapidly become friends.

“It makes it so much more interesting to hear their feedback and have a super-lively environment where you get a lot of good feedback,” she said. “It helps me grow as a choreographer.”

Dancers and MSFO students have been preparing for Saturday’s collaboration amid rehearsals for a bevy of other performances, from last Monday’s joint School of Dance/MSFO performance in the Amphitheater, to Piano Competition rounds in Sherwood-Marsh Studios and Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. But that prep work amid prep work has been an experience Nash is grateful for — particularly in regards to School of Dance Interim Director Sasha Janes.

“It’s been a lot of learning and seeing how to communicate with dancers from a leadership standpoint, and learning how to convey your ideas,” Nash said. “There’s a big difference between seeing something in your head and then communicating that to someone or seeing it in the real world. I think that’s a skill that takes time to develop.”

Being dancers first, before trying their hand at choreography, means the students are gaining a deeper understanding of ballet, which helps to guide the process.

“Being a dancer helps you when you’re standing at the front of your room. You know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of information,” said fifth-year dance student Mia Steedle.

Working with School of Music students, and the opportunity to perform with live accompaniment, has been particularly special for the dance students. They aren’t just bouncing ideas off each other within their field, but across artistic disciplines — hearing what musicians hear in music, for example.

“A lot of the times when you choreograph, you choose a piece of music and it’s performed to a recording, or the musicians come in later in the process,” Steedle said. “But I got to speak with the musicians as I was working on creating steps and ideas.”

Hain said working with live music has challenges — like literally trying to get off on the same foot in terms of tempo — and rewards. 

“It’s been really fun. It’s cool to have live music, especially because you don’t always get the opportunity to use live music,” she said. “I’ve loved that.”

In the act of choreographing, collaborating and deepening their understanding of both music and dance, the students have been seeing “the art create itself, when it unfolds in front of you,” Nash said. 

“There have been so many moments in rehearsals where I asked the dancers to do a phrase,  and I kind of have an idea of it, but then they just take it and make it their own,” she said. “There have been a few moments where I wasn’t exactly sure how something was going to work out, and it just fits the music perfectly. … It’s not my piece. It’s everyone’s piece. It belongs to the musicians. It belongs to the composer. It belongs to the dancers. It’s just really magical to witness.”

It’s a joy and an experience that Nash hopes Chautauquans in the audience can truly feel on Saturday afternoon.

“They’re going to see young dancers fully expressing their love of the art form in new ways that they maybe haven’t had the opportunity to do so before,” Nash said.

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The author Cassidey Kavathas

Cassidey Kavathas, a Buffalo native, is a rising junior journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. This is her first summer at the Daily. She is covering Advancement, Institution administration, the board of trustees, the CPOA and dance. She serves as editor-in-chief at her college’s newspaper, as well as news director at her college’s radio station. Cassidey has previously reported for PolitiFact NY, The Olean Times Herald, TAPInto Greater Olean and St. Bonaventure University’s advancements office.