When the choreographers of ancient Greece needed inspiration, they turned to Terpsichore, the muse of dance. Similarly, the American choreographer George Balanchine turned to George Gershwin, the muse of Tin Pan Alley.
This weekend, Dance Theatre of Tennessee will present the Nashville premiere of “Who Cares?,” Balanchine’s loving tribute to America’s legendary songwriter. The performance, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3 at Father Ryan High School Auditorium, is part of a program titled “Muses.” The production will also feature new works by choreographers Ma Cong and Darrell Grand Moultrie.
“Muses will be looking at the various ways choreographers find inspiration to do their work,” says Christopher Mohnani, Dance Theatre of Tennessee’s artistic director. “We’ll have a short video that introduces each dance and that will provide insight into the choreographer’s thinking.”
Gershwin and Balanchine had initially planned to work together in 1937, when the composer was in Hollywood preparing the score for Samuel Goldwyn’s “Follies.” The 38-year-old Gershwin, however, died unexpectedly of a brain tumor that year, leaving his dance score unfinished.
Balanchine returned to the project on his own 33 years later. He created choreography for some of Gershwin’s best-known songs, including “The Man I Love,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “Embraceable You,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “My One and Only,” “Liza” and “I Got Rhythm.”
New York City Ballet premiered the work in 1970. Mikhail Baryshnikov later danced the concert version of the dance (the same incarnation that will be performed this weekend) for American Ballet Theatre, which was shown on PBS’ “Great Performances” series.
Mohnani is restaging the work in Nashville with the assistance of Stacey Calvert, a former New York City Ballet soloist and ballerina. DTT received permission to stage the work from the George Balanchine Trust and Foundation. “The foundation doesn’t allow just any company to stage Balanchine’s works, so it is an honor to get that privilege,” says Mohnani.
This weekend’s concert will also feature performances of Ma Cong’s “Passion, There” and Darrell Grand Moultrie’s “Points of Interest.” Mohnani, a native of the Philippines, has long had a keen interest in Cong’s work. “I have an affinity for the work of other Asian choreographers, and DTT has worked well with Ma Cong before,” Mohnani says.
Cong is a principal dancer and choreographer with Tulsa Ballet. His new dance is an exploration of the tango. “You will get the sense you are on the streets of Buenos Aires,” says Mohnani.
A New York native and Juilliard School graduate, Moultrie has created choreography for companies around the country, including Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre 2, Cincinnati Ballet and Atlanta Ballet. His new piece is a mix of styles from classical to contemporary. “Darrell creates pure abstract dance,” says Mohnani. “People who appreciate the choreography Balanchine and Jerome Robbins will love Darrell’s work.”
Here are DTT principal dancers Brian Williamson and Jennifer Drake in a preview of “Muses.”
IF YOU GO
Dance Theatre of Tennessee presents its winter concert, “Muses,” at Father Ryan High School Auditorium, 700 Norwood Dr., Nashville. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 3. Tickets are $22.50 adults and $17.50 children in advance, $25 and $20 at the door. For more information call 615-391-5500 or go to www.dancetheatretn.org.