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Shirley Blackburn
Music and Dance Reviews
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Tennessee Performing Arts Center - James K. Polk Theater
United States
Nashville, TN

Nashville Ballet's Attitude Strikes A Perfect Pose

by Shirley Blackburn
February 12, 2015
Tennessee Performing Arts Center - James K. Polk Theater
505 Deaderick Street
Nashville, TN 37219
(615) 782-4000
Invited guests and members of the press braved bone-chilling cold to attend the preview showing of Nashville Ballet's Attitude on February 12 at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Polk Theater.

The performance exemplified the educational impact that artistic director Paul Vasterling has had on transforming Nashville from a tutu-ballet town into an artistically adventurous metropolis. Each piece presented was preceded by a film clip showing the company in a rehearsal of it with the choreographers, who gave the audience a peek at the creative process by commenting on the intent of their respective dances.

A tribute to the late choreographer Choo San Goh, Graham Lustig's "Fanfare" opened the program on an airy, capricious note. Lustig used classical movement with contemporary overtones to create, as the program noted, a "harmonic play of bodies in space designed to fit the musical score." No story line just movement for movement's sake. And what gorgeous movement it was.

The six dancers in "Fanfare" skittered across the stage in perfect time to Graham Fitkin's beautiful score, played superbly by pianists Elena Bennett, Bruce Dudley, Robert Marler and Chris Smallwood who were discreetly ensconced on the side of the stage. Whether paired or split into groups, the dancers turned, jumped, dropped, rolled and pushed up with aplomb and grace. Of particular note were Keenan McLaren and Augusto Cezar whose eye-catching spark was hard to miss.

Next, choreographer Christopher Bruce's "Moonshine" emerged as the evening's showstopper. "Moonshine" was created for Netherlands Dance Theater 3, but the foreign mountains and valley of the backdrop the dancers performed in front of could easily be imagined as the mountains of East Tennessee or the Pacific Northwest. This dance seemed to transcend time and place. Although program notes indicated that the intention of "Moonshine" was to show the tribulations of a dancer's coming to grips with the end of a career, the emotions portrayed paralleled those of any human being's moving from one stage of life to another.

Katie Eliason (Mum), Judson Veach (Dad), Mollie Sansone (Daughter) and Jon Upleger (Son) gave life to the universal themes of love, humor, despair and loss as they danced to the plaintive sounds of Bob Dylan's album "Bootleg." The stylistically mixed choreography was an excellent vehicle for all of them to showcase both their theatrical and dancing skills.

Eliason's solo as the hopelessly despondent mother was positively chilling. Veach imparted humor laced with pathos into his characterization of the alcoholic father and Sansone and Upleger embraced their roles with sensitivity and polish.

Choreographer Gina Patterson's "…but the flowers have yet to come" closed the show on a pensive note.

This modern dance, a collaboration between singer/songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones and Patterson, delved into the complex, transitory nature of human relationships. Included in the cast was artist Emily Leonard who was upstage painting three enormous canvasses on wheels that the dancers moved to segue from one scene into another.

The Matthew Perryman Jones' Band, on the stage in muted lighting, accompanied the dancers. Each of the eight songs played had a different message that was not fully reflected in choreography throughout the work. That said, some of the best dancing of the night emerged in "…but the flowers have yet to come," particularly in the men's section danced to the song "Waking Up the Dead." The movement was awash with barrel turns that all of the men handled deftly but none better than Gerald Watson who was simply spectacular.

The song "Save You" offered three pas de deuxs rife with tender intensity performed by Julia Eisen with Upleger, Sansone with Christopher Stuart and Sarah Cordia with Brett Sjoblom. The only criticism of this section was that Cordia and Sjoblom were lost in the shadows for much of the song. Julia Mitchell in "Canción de la Noche" was breathtaking as she wended her way across the backs of other dancers into a stunning lift.

Vasterling's creative approach to mixing different dance styles set to diverse music offered Nashville audiences a very special Valentine's weekend treat.
Nashville Ballet dancers in Gina Patterson's '…but the flowers have yet to come.'

Nashville Ballet dancers in Gina Patterson's "…but the flowers have yet to come."

Photo © & courtesy of Anthony Matula

Nashville Ballet dancers in Gina Patterson's '…but the flowers have yet to come.'

Nashville Ballet dancers in Gina Patterson's "…but the flowers have yet to come."

Photo © & courtesy of Karyn Kipley

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