Dance Preview: Nashville Ballet, Alias Chamber Ensemble and Portara Ensemble join forces for this week’s cutting-edge Emergence series

emerge1How does Nashville Ballet cap a season that included the world premiere of the Ben Folds Project? It goes all out, ending with a program that features three new dances set to the music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec.

Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling puts a premium on collaboration, so his dancers will perform to live music played by the Nashville-based Alias Chamber Ensemble and Portara Ensemble. The four performances, part of the ballet’s cutting-edge Emergence dance series, will be held Thursday, May 29 through Saturday, May 31 at the Martin Center for Nashville Ballet.

Moravec found inspiration for two of the works on the program – Amorisms and Tempest Fantasy – in the writings of Shakespeare. “Shakespeare is like my silent partner,” says Moravec, who spoke recently by phone from his home in New York. “His work is always giving me ideas.”

emerge2Amorisms, arranged for clarinet, string quartet and vocal ensemble, is based on some of Shakespeare’s most memorable aphorisms about love. The piece quotes such familiar lines as “The course of true love never did run smooth” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and “O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou” from Twelfth Night. Moravec opted to use only short lines and phrases instead entire poems and passages, since he was concerned that using too many words would distract the audience from the dancers. In Amorisms, choral luminosity and texture are more important than the meaning of the words.

Gina Patterson, who collaborated with Nashville Ballet and singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones in 2013’s “But the Flowers Have Yet to Come,” created the choreography for Amorisms. Like many dancers, Patterson usually creates choreography to music she has picked herself, works with which she is familiar and comfortable. Creating dance for Moravec’s unfamiliar music, which is itself a synthesis of chamber and choral music, proved to be a new experience.

“Hearing Paul’s piece for the first time was like going out on a blind date,” Patterson says.

Since Amorisms doesn’t have a narrative that would suggest any particular dance movements, Patterson focused her attention on finding space in the work’s dense textures. The movement from darkness to light in the music serves as an invitation to the dancers to react and respond.

emerge3Moravec won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Tempest Fantasy, which was inspired by his favorite Shakespeare play. Banning Bouldin, a regular Nashville Ballet guest teacher and choreographer, created the choreography for that piece. Bouldin opted to choreograph three of the fantasy’s five movements – Alias will perform an additional movement as a kind of overture.

Like Patterson, Bouldin also considered Moravec’s dense textures to be a challenge. She found space through stillness, using small movements to respond to the work’s thick harmonies and instrumentation.

The third Moravec piece on the program, Sacred Love Songs, features the choreography of James Gregg, who recently won Austin Ballet’s 2014 New American Talent Choreographic Competition.  Moravec composed this music to familiar biblical texts along with a meditation known as “A Prayer of St. Francis.”

Gregg imagined his own narrative for this piece, which opens with two dancers stuck in a waiting room that turns out to be Purgatory. “It’s been a thrill working with the Nashville Ballet dancers,” says Gregg. “They immediately got what I wanted, so we just went with the flow.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Marianne Leach

IF YOU GO

Nashville Ballet joins Alias Chamber Ensemble and Portara Ensemble to perform three new dances set to the music of Paul Moravec. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 29 and Friday, May 30 and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday May 31 at the Martin Center for Nashville Ballet, 3630 Redmon St. For tickets, click here.

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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.