Nashville Ballet has performed many times with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. But on March 24, the two ensembles celebrated a milestone, performing together for the first time inside the Schermerhorn Symphony Center. To mark the occasion, the groups presented an ambitious program that included Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and Copland’s Appalachian Spring.
The Prokofiev provided the perfect opportunity for the Nashville Symphony to display its exuberant, rich orchestral sound. The tender, intimate sections were as sweet as they were captivating, and tricky passagework was no problem for the string sections as they breezed through the music with exciting vigor. There was obvious passion among the musicians, leading to a thrilling interpretation, even though at times this led to minor balance issues. This was especially true whenever the brass went full-throttle, since it was hard to hear the strings playing the countermelody.
The pas de deux from the Balcony Scene was a beautiful depiction of the excitement and passion that is often associated with young love. Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling’s incredible strength lies in his storytelling, and there was an equal focus on technical execution as well as emotion in his choreography. The dancers were in constant motion, making jaw-dropping leaps and jumps across the stage while at the same time tenderly expressing the love between their characters, making for a romantic and uplifting pas de deux.
The Four Seasons is a perennial favorite among all music lovers, and it was performed beautifully by a small chamber group comprised of members of the Nashville Symphony. Concertmaster Jun Iwasaki executed his solos with impressive virtuosity and speed, and the orchestra maintained its passionate and fiery approach to the music throughout the piece. Particularly commendable about this performance is the fact that the dancers were used to rehearsing with a recording of The Four Seasons by British violinist Nigel Kennedy, who added improvisational riffs to the score that Iwasaki had to learn by ear.
The choreography to The Four Seasons, also an original work by Vasterling, was varying in its success. The choreography for “Autumn” took a while to evolve, and the dancers seemed to move about the stage a little aimlessly. There was a mismatch in pacing of the choreography with the music, as you could hear their pointe shoes thumping on the stage, which was quite jarring and distracting.
“Winter,” on the other hand, was exciting and lively, the choreography more in tune with the pace of the music. In “Spring,” Vasterling tells a humorous story of two young women fighting for the attention of a young man. Once again, acting integrated into the choreography made the performance in this movement shine. “Summer,” like “Autumn,” was another movement where the choreography felt awkward and out of place. It was hard to tell what point Vasterling was trying to get across, other than perhaps a display of male strength and virility. Nevertheless, the choreography was quite inventive in its integration of contemporary dance with traditional classical ballet.
The highlight of the evening, by far, was the performance of Appalachian Spring. Music director Giancarlo Guerrero led a small complement of players in the original 1944 version of the score, which consisted of just 13 musicians. It was an intimate rendition of this quintessentially American work, though there were a few disappointing moments. For instance, at the start, a chorus of coughs and extraneous noises marred the serene opening clarinet solo. Despite this distraction, Guerrero and his musicians carried on beautifully, infusing every note of the piece with emotion and purpose.
Martha Graham, the renowned 20th-century modern dancer and choreographer, created the original choreography for Appalachian Spring. Her version depicted a spring celebration of American pioneers in the 19th century. Among the central characters were a young farm couple, a pioneer woman and a preacher.
Vasterling’s take was different but equally as powerful. His story featured a matriarch figure watching her several children grow and mature over the course of the piece. The choreography was motivic when the ensemble danced, giving the ballet a sense of continuity. At the same time, Vasterling showcased his choreographic versatility by programming different styles of dance during the dancers’ respective solos.
Overall, the work was a powerfully moving tribute to the strength of relationships and the beauty of the human spirit, coupled with a near-flawless execution of the score by Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony.
Dance lovers who missed Appalachian Spring at the Schermerhorn are in luck, since the ballet and symphony will reprise their performance May 5-7 at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall. Tickets are available here.