A Conversation with Paul Vasterling, Artistic Director and CEO, Nashville Ballet
What made you decide to become a choreographer?
I always loved moving to music. Music is my first step always.
Who do you most admire in your field?
The artistic director I admire most is Peter Martins, of the New York City Ballet. I love the work of the amazing American choreographer Jerome Robbins. In Nashville, I’d have to say Scot Copeland. He knows the job of being an artistic director and always produces a great product.
Where do you find inspiration?
Music, literature, and everyday life. I’ve got a melting pot in the back of my brain that comes together to produce a ballet. Sometimes I just notice people doing something funny.
As you look back, who pushed you in this direction?
There have been several. In my first ballet there was a woman, Donna Delseni. When I was a dancer she gave me the opportunity to choreograph. Jane Fabian really supported my work as a choreographer; she is the mother of Nashville ballet. Also, Eddie Myers. He passed away at the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the 1990s. He told me to just do it, don’t wait for anybody.
Where are you most happy?
1) I am happy at my house in East Nashville with my partner and my four dogs. Nashville is my home. 2) In the studio with dancers making work. 3) In the studio with dancers practicing work. That is magic. The older I get the more I know this is true.
What characteristic do you like most about yourself?
I am pretty kind. That’s what I strive to be—kind, fair, sensitive, and empathetic.
What does it take to be a great dancer?
It is the soul of an artist. That is what you are looking for. The instruments vary—the bodies, facilities, the God-given talents— but when they have that extra something that they need to do and do it, that is rare, an artistry.
What is your extravagance?
Travelling . . . travelling to Europe. Rome is the most inspiring place I’ve ever been.
What do you like most about living in Nashville?
I’m from New Orleans; I love the Deep South. The weather is great here—four seasons, hills, and it has an amazing cultural life and creativity. All these fantastic people live here. You never know who you are going to meet. I got to meet Ben Folds here, and he will answer my texts! The people are so real and accessible here. It is so easy to live here. I go to New York all the time and there is a lot there, but it is inconvenient.
What talent do you secretly wish you had?
I would love to be a fiction writer—novel, short stories . . . It’s always been in the back of my mind. Also, maybe I’d like to be a composer.
What do you like to do in Nashville?
I live in East Nashville, and just walking around the neighborhood is fantastic. My partner and I are both interested in the performing arts; we love going to the theatre and the symphony—every time I go into that building I am like, wow, this is amazing we have this here . . . It’s magical. We frequently go to the art crawls. My partner paints, and we both love to enjoy the arts here.
If your house were burning down, what would you grab?
My iPod, because it has all of my music on it. I can’t figure out how to transfer my music library, and my iPod has over 6,000 songs on it.
What keeps you motivated and engaged?
The art side of it. I find joy in my CEO work, especially relating to the administrative staff, and I get excited about them making achievements. Really in my heart I am a quiet, introspective person, and getting to work with the dancers, thinking about new works, or planning works for their 2014 season keeps me going.
Is there a favorite piece that still lives in your heart?
My favorite piece is Carmina Burana. It is the best one where everything came together nicely . . . it was right. It was a good Carmina Burana in the context of Carmina Buranas, too.
What is the next stylistic step in dance?
That is a great question. For choreographers of now, there is a huge influence that has been going on in Europe for a while started by Jiří Kylián. That has leaked into a lot of what is going on here. It’s not really classical ballet. It is a more contemporary take on ballet—much heavier.
What is the biggest challenge that the ballet faces here in Nashville?
People have preconceived notions of what it is and what their relationship is to it. They see tutus, pointe shoes, and men in tights and think I can’t relate to that—it isn’t relevant to me. It isn’t always that, and for us it usually isn’t that. My responsibility here in Nashville is to create a diverse program to reach a wide audience.
Where does the Nashville ballet stand in the context of other ballet companies around the u.s.—are we there yet?
Most of the folks who come here from Washington or New York say wow, this is amazing what you are doing here. Reputation- wise we are not there yet, but what we have here is really, really good. We are moving on up! Watch in a couple of years. The word is getting out.
What would surprise me to know about you?
My taste in entertainment goes all the way from low to high. I may watch a reality show every now and then, Real Housewives, for example.
Who would you like to engage in conversation?
Igor Stravinsky. Edith Wharton would also be great.
What was the last great book that you read?
I am rereading The Hours by Michael Cunningham. They say that artists have two alleys—you have themes that you always come back to. My theme is about lost time in the Proustian way. Michael Cunningham’s books deal with the perception of time.
Boxers or Briefs?
Briefs. I have to wear them in the studio, so it is convenient.
To learn more about Paul Vasterling and his work see: paulvasterling.com and nashvilleballet.com/about_us/ artistic_staff/paul_vasterling.