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Dance season at Chautauqua heats up

The summer dance season at the Chautauqua Institution, which is already underway, kicks into high gear with the inter-arts collaboration of composer Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana on Saturday (repeating Aug. 15) at the historic Chautauqua Amphitheater.

Directed by Marty Merkley, the Institution’s retiring vice president and director of programming, the operatic ballet features a cast of more than 400 dancers, singers and musicians. It is choreographed by Chautauqua Dance/Charlotte Ballet artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux.

The production includes performances by members of the in-residence Charlotte Ballet, the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, Pittsburgh Youth Chorus and Chautauqua School of Dance. They will all bring to life Orff’s musical arrangement of 25 bawdy and satirical monastic poems and texts from the 11th to 13th centuries, including the powerful and recognizable “O Fortuna.”

“They are like tableaus,” Bonnefoux said. “I love the idea of showing these 25 mostly independent scenes. You show one idea and then it’s done and you move onto something completely different.”

Charlotte Ballet returns to the amphitheater on Wednesday with “An Evening of Pas de Deux.” The mix of classical and contemporary ballet pas de deuxs will include George Balanchine’s 1960 masterwork “Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux,” staged by former New York City Ballet star and 2014 Kennedy Center Honor recipient Patricia McBride; “Le Corsaire pas de deux”; an excerpt from choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s 2015 ballet “Spun to the Sky”; and two pas de deuxs by choreographer Mark Diamond including “Widow,” about a spiderlike seductress and the contemporary pas de deux from his ballet “Contrast” set to music by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Also on the program will be a reprise of Peter Martins’ “Valse Triste” (1985) and Sasha Janes’ “Queen” (2012), about a lonely young queen whose champion refuses to fight for her anymore. Her failed attempts to seduce and cajole the soldier to change his mind lead to his execution.

On Aug. 5, Charlotte Ballet’s annual Dance Innovations program will feature Diamond’s “Path” (2015), a ballet about a young man dealing with family turmoil and societal and peer pressure; Rhoden’s socially conscious “Peace Piece” (2015), a ballet that blends images of violence with the peaceful, loving nature of humans; and Janes’ “Utopia” (2013), a contemporary ballet he calls his almost “Mad Men” ballet, a la the TV series. It tells the story of a disillusioned 1950s housewife and is set to songs of the era such as the Platters’ “The Great Pretender,” Patience and Prudence’s “Tonight, You Belong To Me,” and the Teddy Bears’ “To Know Him Is To Love Him.” The ballet, Janes said, juxtaposes cheery music with a dark and depressing message.

Rounding out Chautauqua’s professional dance offerings on Aug. 26 will be the Chautauqua debut of Buffalo’s LehrerDance. The contemporary jazz company will present some of its most beloved repertory works including the aggressive, hard-driving “Pantheon Rising” (2013), the joyful “Bridge and Tunnel,” set to Paul Simon tunes, and the Lehrer signature work “A Ritual Dynamic” (2007). 

All programs begin at 8:15 p.m. in Chautauqua Institution, 1 Ames Ave., Chautauqua. Tickets are $40, $20 (Aug. 5 and 29 programs only). For information, call 357-6250 or visit

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