All-Star Dance Gala brings Chautauqua alumni home

Chun Wai, left, and Isabella LaFreniere perform as a part of last summer’s Alumni All-Star Ballet Gala in the Amphitheater. Wai and LaFreniere performed Balachine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Duex.” Georgia Pressley/Daily File Photo

Julia Weber
Staff Writer

Chautauqua School of Dance alumni are dancing their way back to the Institution for the annual All-Star Dance Gala and will take the stage tonight at 8:15 p.m. at the Amphitheater.

Dancers who attended the Chautauqua School of Dance will flock back to the grounds to perform this evening. The performance boasts a variety of ballet pieces performed by individuals and partners, including multiple pieces originally choreographed by George Balanchine and the world premiere of a piece choreographed by Sasha Janes, artistic director of the School of Dance.

Pat Feighan, president of Chautauqua Dance Circle, said many of the returning dancers are past recipients of CDC scholarships.

“We’ve known them and watched them in their career,” she said. “The dancers that Sasha brings back are at the top of their career in some of the most prestigious ballet companies in the country.”

Dancers come to Chautauqua Institution from all parts of the country – New York, Atlanta and Seattle, to name a few. One of the challenges presented by a coming together of talented artists throughout the dance community is the lack of time to rehearse, so dancers often perform solo or partnered (pas de deux) pieces.

“Typically, they have to come prepared,” Janes said. “Often, I’ve picked stuff that’s in their repertoire already, and then it’s just a matter of getting here a couple of days before and acclimatizing.”

For the premiere of “Of The Night,” Isabella LaFreniere of New York City Ballet and James Gilmer of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will take to the stage to combine their talents.

“I wanted to put them together to create a new work so we’ll premiere that at the gala,” Janes said. “… I’m super excited about that and it’s super nice to see those two different styles come together in action and do something like that.”

Some of the dancers visiting for the gala will not only perform, but also will also join the School of Dance as visiting faculty, providing formal dance instruction as well as insight into the drive and ambition required of a professional dancer.

“For the students to see the work ethic and what it actually takes to be the top is super-valuable, and we can keep saying that and we can keep saying that, … but until they see people that have already arrived, but are still trying to get better and better and still trying to perfect their craft, I think that’s where it becomes really invaluable,” Janes said.

To complement the gala, the CDC will host a fundraiser soiree to celebrate the All-Star dancers and honor Patricia McBride, former distinguished prima ballerina with the New York City Ballet and director of ballet studies and principal repetiteur at Chautauqua Institution.

The gala raises money for things like program scholarships, pointe shoes and other necessary materials for dancers.

“We know that there are many more students out there who would benefit from scholarships so we are having this scholarship soiree – first time ever – and it will help the students for next year and the year after, and the really exciting part about it is that it is also an opportunity to honor Patricia McBride,” said Feighan.

To both Janes and Feighan, this is immeasurably important to meet students’ needs and let dancers focus not only perfecting, but excelling at their craft.

Janes said he hopes that attendees will be immersed in the performances and touched by the passion for dance that the alumni share.

“I think they’ll be moved,” he said.


The author Julia Weber

Julia Weber is a rising junior in Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College where she is majoring in journalism and minoring in art history. Originally from Athens, Ohio, this is her first summer in Chautauqua and she is thrilled to cover the theater and dance performances. She serves as the features editor for Ohio University’s All-Campus Radio Network, a student-run radio station and media hub, and she is a former intern for Pittsburgh Magazine. Outside of her professional life, Julia has a newly adopted cat, Griffin, and she is an avid fan of live music and a dedicated ceramicist.