From Ben Folds to Tchaikovsky, Nashville Ballet’s newly announced 2013-14 season has it all

balletbenWhen it comes to planning the Nashville Ballet’s season, artistic director Paul Vasterling likes to say he has various “audience buckets” to fill.  Some of his patrons prefer the sumptuousness of classical ballet, while others crave adventurous modern dance. Naturally, Vasterling wants to please everybody.

Appealing to every taste would seem to be the main point of Nashville Ballet’s newly announced 2013-14 season. Vasterling’s buckets are overflowing. Opulent storybook ballets, bold premieres and daring collaborations are all on the ballet’s agenda. There will even be considerable star power, courtesy of a new commission from pop star turned piano virtuoso Ben Folds.

“Regional ballet companies collaborate with other artists and arts groups all of the time,” Vasterling said during an announcement party Saturday afternoon. “But none of them dance to as much live music, which is why I’m so excited about next season.”

balletsugarNashville Ballet’s season will open in grand style with a newly realized rendition of Peter Pan (Oct.18-20). Vasterling is creating choreography for this work, which will feature, among other things, music from Debussy’s Children’s Corner. The Nashville Symphony will accompany.

“I always like to begin a season with a big, classical storybook ballet,” says Vasterling. “These ballets are the most technically challenging pieces to dance, so they get our dancers in shape for the rest of the season.”

Campbell Baird, who designed the sets for Nashville’s Nutcracker, has also designed the sets and costumes for Peter Pan. All the familiar characters – Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, the man-eating crocodile – will be onstage for the performance.  Since Vasterling has a penchant for magic, this production will include flying rigs to take the dancers airborne. “You will fly in this production,” Vasterling told his dancers on Saturday. Peter Pan will be onstage for four performances at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall.

ballet2The season continues with the ever-popular Yuletide chestnut, Nashville’s Nutcracker (Dec. 7-22, 2013). Vasterling has localized his production, setting it in Nashville around the time of the Tennessee Centennial Celebration of 1897. Victorian-era Nashville is a convincing backdrop for this ballet. Act I’s sumptuous set, with its Gone With the Wind-style winding staircase, recreates the splendor of the old Belle Meade Mansion. Baird’s colorful costumes capture the spirit of the age. Vasterling tweaks the performance every year, so expect some new and even more spectacular magic from Drosselmeyer. Nashville’s Nutcracker will be onstage for 12 performances at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall. The Nashville Symphony, as always, will perform from the pit.

balletaliasAttitude (Feb. 14-16), Nashville Ballet’s winter show of contemporary dance, will feature the works of three cutting-edge choreographers along with music from the Sugar and Hi Lows and Alias Chamber Ensemble. Christopher Stuart, a Nashville Ballet dancer, will create a new dance set to the music of Johnny Cash. The neo-rockabilly Sugar and the Hi Lows (Trent Dabbs and Amy Stroup) will perform the Man-in-Black’s music live.

Choreographer Brian Enos’ And the Legions will Rise, which Nashville Ballet performed last year as part of its Emergence series, will feature the music of contemporary American composer Kevin Puts. Alias will perform Puts’ music live. The music of minimalist composer Philip Glass will round out the program. Vasterling has used a solo piano arrangement of music from Glass’ Orphée Suite for his dance Time/Return/Memory. Attitude will be held at TPAC’s Polk Theater for three performances.

balletkudzuThe ballet will also be performing one other dance that weekend – Tennessee Jack and the Kudzu Vine (Feb. 15). This family ballet gives the classic story of Jack and the Beanstalk a local spin. The performance will feature music from Belmont University School of Music composer Deen Entsminger and a 10-foot-tall puppet from the Centerville-based Wood and Strings Puppet Theater. Tennessee Jack will get two performances at the Polk Theater.

The highlight of the season – both musically and choreographically – will likely be the Ben Folds Project, which takes place May 2-4, 2014 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall. Folds is writing a new Piano Concerto on a group commission from the Nashville Ballet, Nashville Symphony and Minnesota Orchestra.  Folds will perform the concerto with the orchestras in Nashville and Minneapolis in the spring of 2014, and then return in May to perform it with both the Nashville Ballet and Nashville Symphony. Vasterling will create the choreography.

balletattitudeThe Nashville Symphony will be on hand to accompany two other dances on the May 2-4 2014 program. First will be the Nashville premiere of the contemporary Czech-Dutch choreographer Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, a contemporary masterpiece that combines elements of classical and modern dance. The piece is set to music from Mozart’s lyrically sunny Piano Concertos in A major and C major, which should make it an excellent companion to Ben Folds’ new work. Also on the program will be a Balanchine classic, Serenade, an elegant work that uses Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C major to highlight the beauty of the ballerinas.

Some of Nashville Ballet’s most appealingly intimate performances now take place at the company’s headquarters, the Martin Center for Nashville Ballet. The company will present the engaging children’s ballet Carnival of the Animals at the Center for four performances May 17 to June 1, 2014. Vasterling has created the choreography for this ballet, which is set to French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ well-known suite of the same name.

balletemerge3The season will conclude with the ballet’s daring Emergence series. The program will feature the works of three choreographers: Banning Bouldin, James Gregg and Gina Patterson. A frequent guest choreographer, Patterson will create a dance set to the music of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec. The Alias Chamber Ensemble and Portara Vocal Ensemble will perform Moravec’s music.

Photo credits: Ben Folds by Anthony Matula; Sugar and the Hi Lows by Tec Petaja; Nutcracker by Anthony Matula; Alias by Marianne Leach; Kudzu Vine; Petite Mort by Daisy Komen; Emergence by Marianne Leach.


Season tickets for Nashville Ballet’s 2013-14 season go on sale Monday, June 3, 2013 through Patrons attending Romeo and Juliet April 26-28 will have an exclusive opportunity to purchase season tickets before they go on sale to the public. For season ticket information, contact the ballet at (615) 297-2966 ext. 10 or visit the ticket information page at Individual tickets go on sale Monday, July 1, 2013 and can be purchased in person at the TPAC box office 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), 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.