Student gala to showcase next generation of ballet talent

Chautauqua School of Dance students rehearse the piece “MORE” Thursday in the Carnahan Jackson Dance Studios in preparation for the first Chautauqua Dance Student Gala. Brett Phelps/Staff Photographer

Julia Weber
Staff writer

What does the future of ballet hold? Look to Chautauqua’s School of Dance students this Sunday to find out.

Students in Chautauqua Institution’s School of Dance program will leap onto stage to showcase the talent of the next generation of dance during the first Chautauqua School of Dance Student Gala at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

For Sasha Janes, artistic director of the School of Dance, part of the value that the recent All-Star Dance Gala offered is the chance for current students to see the commitment and dedication that professional dancers have for their craft, and to apply that same drive and ambition to their own careers, bringing dance into a new generation.

The Student Gala, however, differs significantly from the alumni gala stylistically. Whereas most of the alumni performances were solo or pas de deux pieces, Chautauquans can expect to see group pieces during this weekend’s performance.

“When Jean-Pierre (Bonnefoux) created the program, he put a lot of emphasis on the performance side because that’s where you see real growth,” he said, referring to his predecessor.

“There is a strong emphasis on all the classes and the technique and all of that, but he always thought that getting students on stage early was a great way to build confidence and then they can apply what they’ve learned and everything back to their technique.”

Janes stressed the importance of creating an environment where dancers can explore, experiment and innovate without fear of making mistakes. 

“We have a safe place where they can really practice their craft,” he said. “The more we can get them exposed to being on stage and getting used to dancing with nervousness and adrenaline and how to cope with that, that’s just another learning tool.”

Dancers will perform everything from excerpts from The Nutcracker to Broadway musical numbers.

Faculty at Chautauqua’s School of Dance teach a base curriculum of ballet, incorporating a range of teachers who bring diverse contemporary techniques to the studio to build on traditional ballet techniques.

The performance, brought to life by School of Dance faculty, including Janes, as well as other renowned dancers involved with Chautauqua, will demonstrate the classical and contemporary ballet techniques that students have studied with faculty at the Institution throughout the season so far.

Janes said he is excited to see how dancers’ personalities will come to life when they take the stage, letting their identities shine through ballet. 

“It’s also interesting to see which kids are maybe somewhat reserved and then they get out on stage and sort of bust out,” he said.

The gala will welcome a blend of classical and contemporary ballet, providing Chautauquans with a glimpse into not only the formative technical training Chautauqua’s dance program provides, but into the next generation of dance itself.

Janes hopes viewers will take away an understanding of the high level of skill and technique that the Chautauquan dancers bring to the studio and stage. Especially given the short duration of the program so far, Janes said he is thrilled with the body of work that the dancers have learned and are ready to perform.

He credits the dancers with consistently pushing boundaries to improve their craft, raising the bar for the student performance.

“I think the standard continues to elevate from year to year,” Janes 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.