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Nashville Ballet Ends 30th Season on a High Note in Vasterling Ballets

by Shirley Blackburn
April 26, 2016
Tennessee Performing Arts Center - Andrew Jackson Hall
505 Deaderick St.
Nashville, TN 37219
(615) 782-4040
Nashville Ballet closed its season on a glorious high note with “Carmina Burana.” Presented in Tennessee Performing Arts Center's (TPAC) Andrew Jackson Hall on Sunday April 24, the company collaborated with The Nashville Symphony & Chorus and The Nashville Children’s Choir Ensemble to present a powerful performance of dance, music and vocals.

Artistic director Paul Vasterling’s inspiration for his choreography in the program’s two pieces came from ancient texts: “Carmina Burana,” from a 13th century poem that deals with the vicissitudes of fate and “Layla and the Majnun,” an adaptation of an Arabic tale by 12th century poet Nizami Ganjavi that chronicles the pathos of unrequited love. Vasterling chose universal human themes that are as applicable in modern times as they were in centuries past.

“Layla and The Majnun” opened the program. Filmed pre-show comments by Vasterling about his choreography, which was set to original music by Richard Danielpour, indicated that Layla and The Majnun’s futile struggle to be together can be construed as a metaphor for man’s search for God in which Layla (the beloved) represents the Divine and The Majnun (the madman), the seeker of perfect love.

Holly Hynes’ exquisite costumes were a critical element in seamlessly seguing one scene into another. Soprano Julie Cox’s superbly clear voice added depth and intensity to this piece.

Although the movement was rooted in ballet, use of sweeping port de bras that rotated into upper back arches as the dancers changed direction or exited the stage added a distinctly modern feel. In the opening scene, the members of the corps were clad in white while Layla (Kayla Rowser) and The Majnun (Brett Sjoblom) wore blue with gray overtones. Rowser and Sjoblom’s pas de deux as tentative young lovers was tragically agonizing to watch. They spun and leapt, while intensely reaching for but never touching each other except in their lifts. Their frustration was palpable. Sjoblom's opening solo in this scene was emotionally compelling and technically solid.

The wedding scene, in which Layla was forced by her father (Jon Upleger) to forsake her true love to marry a man of his choice (Judson Veach), produced the corps’ finest dancing of the afternoon. Their spacing, alignment of arms and ensemble movement were top notch. The dancers’ full-length billowing skirts - the men’s were black and white and the ladies’, a rosy burgundy and white - flared each time they twirled which added visual interest to the movement. Upleger and Veach rendered some very fine dancing both in their duet and in the pas de trois with Rowser.

“Layla and The Majnun” ended as it began with a stellar pas de deux that reflected resolution and love. Rowser and Sjoblom performed with characteristic grace and passion. The Majnun found perfection, not in another but in himself.

Vasterling’s “Carmina Burana,” a ballet based on the medieval poem “Oh, Fortuna” which composer Carl Orff set to music in 1936, closed the performance with epic theatrical style. His choreography for this ballet was rooted in classical dance but had touches of modern, jazz, street dance and burlesque. According to the program notes, the ballet portrays “earthly pleasures, pleasures gone wrong and a balance between desire and spiritual awareness.” The movement played out as an entertaining mix of playful courting, raucous sexuality and tender love.

The curtain opened on a tableau that showed Fortuna/Lady Luck (Julia Eisen) standing center stage in a gigantic white skirt with a wheel of fortune cast in light upon it. Seated behind her on risers and next to her stage right and stage left were members of the Nashville Symphony Chorus with musicians situated on the aprons. The Children’s Choir Ensemble was suspended above the audience in the loge. Vocalists Julie Cox, Tim Waurick and Mark Whatley took the stage with the dancers when they sang their solos.

As the music began, Eisen’s straight arms shot upward and downward in a V-shape and then bounced off each other like magnetic pendulums as the dancers emerged from beneath her skirt to begin dancing. They moved on it, over it and under it before rolling the skirt up to be flown off to reveal Fortuna wearing a black and silver breastplate, tights and pointe shoes. Eisen was the constant in every scene and delivered an excellent performance.

Outstanding in “Spring” were Nicholas Scheuer as The Sun and Alexandra Meister as Flora. Christopher Stuart’s solo took top spot in “The Tavern” as did Mollie Sansone’s performance as Cupid in “The Court of Love.” Apprentice Gerald Watson’s nice facility and eye-catching personality put him front and center throughout the performance making him an up-and-comer to watch. Best of show goes to Kayla Rowser for her technical prowess and elegant presence in both “Layla and The Majnun” and “Carmin Burana.”

As the 30th season closes, it should be noted that Nashville Ballet has grown exponentially during the 18 years with Vasterling at the helm. His vision and perseverance have given Nashville a professional ballet company of which it can be proud.
Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Carmina Burana.”

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Carmina Burana.”

Photo © & courtesy of Karyn Photography

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Carmina Burana.”

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Carmina Burana.”

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Broekema

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Layla and the Majnun.”

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Layla and the Majnun.”

Photo © & courtesy of Heather Thorne

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Layla and the Majnun.”

Nashville Ballet in Paul Vasterling’s “Layla and the Majnun.”

Photo © & courtesy of Heather Thorne

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