Dance Review: Nashville Ballet soars in ‘Peter Pan’

balletpeter2The world’s best-known symbol of perpetual youth is taking flight in Nashville.

This weekend, Nashville Ballet is presenting the world premiere of artistic director Paul Vasterling’s Peter Pan, and those of us who were lucky enough to see Thursday night’s final dress rehearsal at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center can attest that it is a visually sumptuous affair.

The superb cast literally flies through this production, as if soaring on the wings of the Nashville Symphony’s shimmering brass and strings. Campbell Baird’s colorful sets and costumes create a storybook world of Lost Boys, bumbling pirates and one voracious crocodile. The score, a composite of French Romantic and Impressionistic works, is full of charm and sentiment.

Augusto Cezar was delightfully rambunctious as the lead, and he sailed through his role like a born acrobat, executing aerial spins and full-body flips with energy and zest. He readily captured Peter’s fearlessly cocky attitude as he engaged in playful (and gravity-defying) combat with Captain Hook. He also revealed a sweetness of character that was positively endearing, especially in his relationship with Wendy.

Mollie Sansone, as the aforementioned young woman, is the true heart and soul of this production. She performed her aerial arabesques with grace, taste and an easy elegance that all but defied description, making her seem like a true creature of the air. Her acting – warm, affecting and believable – brought out both the innocence and precociousness of her character.

balletpeter1The other leads also gave standout performances. Kayla Rowser danced the role of Tinker Bell with effervescence, and she imparted to her character a welcome degree of warmth and human emotion not often associated with pint-sized fairies. Christopher Stuart (who is alternating in the role of Captain Hook this weekend with Jon Upleger), nailed the role of the pernicious pirate, a fiend as sinuous as a cat and as menacing as a serpent. Tyler Sheets, for his part, was a hoot as Hook’s whip-tailed nemesis, the Ticking Crocodile. And Tony Montalvo and Nicholas Scheuer gave fun, irrepressible accounts of the Darling brothers.

Vasterling’s choreography – stylish, sophisticated and smart – often called to mind the work of Marius Petipa at its refined best. His various character dances for fairies, Indian maidens and pirates were clearly homage to that great 19th-century choreographer. But there was also a swiftness and liveliness to the movements – especially in the aerial and combat scenes – that suggested the influence of American musical theater.

Vasterling selected the music for this production, stitching together various works of Claude Debussy, such as music from his Children’s Corner and Préludes, Book II, along with works by Fauré, Bizet and Ravel. The music was often charming and effective – one could hardly think of a better theme for the Lost Boys than “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” – and conductor Emil de Cou led the Nashville Symphony in nuanced renditions.

Nevertheless, the muted colors of this Impressionistic music failed at times to capture the magic and sparkle of the story. Sir Edward Elgar’s lush and Romantic music, which Houston Ballet used in its production of Peter Pan, was arguably a better match.

But that’s a small quibble that detracts little from the undeniable magic of this production. To paraphrase J.M. Barrie’s timeless character, Nashville Ballet’s Peter Pan promises an “awfully big adventure,” and dance fans would do well to catch one of this weekend’s premiere performances.



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), 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.