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Dance Preview: Nashville Ballet travels to Neverland in world premiere of ‘Peter Pan’

peterpan2When Nashville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling announced last spring his intentions of staging a new production of Peter Pan, he made a single promise to his dancers: “You will fly,” he said.

On the outside, Vasterling’s dancers seemed a bit surprised – maybe even a little bit nervous – when they learned they would soon be dangling from wires. But one suspects on the inside they were all raring to go. Ballet dancers, after all, are in business of seeming to defy gravity. Why not take the next logical step of actually breaking free of earth’s fetters?

“The dancers have really taken to flying by wires,” Vasterling said during a recent phone interview. “And they look absolutely gorgeous in the air.”

Nashville Ballet is opening its 2013-14 season with Peter Pan, which runs for four performances Friday, Oct. 18 to Sunday, Oct. 20 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Andrew Jackson Hall. It’s going to be a big production, which seems only fitting, since Nashville Ballet is gearing up for arguably its most eclectic and ambitious season of collaborations to date.

In addition to the world premiere of Peter Pan, Nashville Ballet is collaborating with the Nashville Symphony and pop star Ben Folds to create a new dance, which will have its premiere May 2-4, 2014. The ballet will also collaborate with the Alias Chamber Ensemble and Portara Ensemble to create three new dances set to the music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec. Those works get their premiere during the company’s Emergence series May 29-31, 2014.

The scope of the Peter Pan production shows the extent to which the ballet has grown in recent years. This ambitious project has been created largely in-house, with the welding and cutting of sets, the sewing and fitting of costumes, and the building of flying equipment being done onsite. “Campbell Baird, who designed our Nashville’s Nutcracker, has also designed our sets and scenery for Peter Pan, and he has created a beautiful period piece,” says Vasterling.

Vasterling, of course, created the choreography, which will have the elegant look of grand ballet. Along with the conductor and frequent collaborator Nathan Fifield, Vasterling also selected the music. Peter Pan tells the story of a boy who doesn’t want to grow up – “It is a beautiful story of nostalgia and lost youth,” says Vasterling. To establish just the right misty, nostalgic mood, Vasterling has turned to French composer Claude Debussy’s impressionistic Children’s Corner. The music of several other French composers – Fauré, Bizet and Ravel – will round out the program.

It’s no secret that Vasterling has a passion for magic. Every season, his Drosselmeyer arrives on the set of Nashville’s Nutcracker (which runs this season Dec. 7-22 at TPAC) with a few new tricks. You won’t find tricks in Peter Pan. “But there is going to be a feeling of magic throughout the performance,” says Vasterling. “After all, these dancers can fly.”

IF YOU GO

Nashville Ballet presents the world premiere of Paul Vasterling’s Peter Pan. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday Oct. 18, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20 at TPAC’s Jackson Hall, 505 Deaderick St. Tickets are $35 to $82 and are available here or by calling (615) 782-4040.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.