TPAC’s Polk Theater • Feb. 13, 14 & 15
by Martin Brady
Nashville Ballet’s Attitude, the third major program in its 2014–15 season—following Swan Lake and The Nutcracker—finds the company taking advantage of a welcome opportunity to extend the range of its gifted dancers. Here, the vision of established, world-class choreographers merges with cutting-edge and classic musicians and composers, with the ensemble’s movement enhanced in part by a uniquely complementary contribution from the world of visual art.
The latest Attitude, February 13–15 at TPAC’s Polk Theater, presents three distinctive pieces to the Nashville dance audience, two of them local premieres and the third a revival of a work previously performed in Music City.
The program opener, Fanfare, features six dancers performing the choreography of Graham Lustig, an internationally recognized choreographer and teacher—and also artistic director of his own company in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Fanfare pays homage to Lustig’s longtime friend and fellow artist Singapore’s Choo San Goh, capturing the essence of Choo’s elegant, linear style.
“Fanfare challenges the performers with its super-virtuosity,” says Sharyn Mahoney, the ballet’s director of artistic operations. “It’s difficult work, similar to dancing Stravinsky, with his wild time signatures.” This is the second time Nashville Ballet has performed one of Lustig’s works.
The intricate rhythms and engaging themes of the music come courtesy of British composer and pianist Graham Fitkin, whose oeuvre falls broadly into the minimalist and post-minimalist categories. Fitkin is particularly known for his works for solo and multiple pianos, and here his percussively charged Flak will be rendered by four onstage pianists seated at two pianos—Bruce Dudley (a jazz pianist and professor at Belmont University), Chris Smallwood (pianist for Beatles imitation group RAIN), Elena Bennett (who has performed with Nashville Ballet multiple times), and Robert Marler (musician with the Nashville Symphony and professor at Belmont University).
The second dance piece is called Moonshine, featuring four dancers, choreography by Christopher Bruce, and the music of Bob Dylan, drawn from bootleg recordings of the great songwriter’s early folkie period (c. 1961–63).
British choreographer Bruce originally created Moonshine for Nederlands Dans Theater. He is no stranger to choreography with popular song, having created a number of pieces inspired by the music of the Rolling Stones (“Paint It Black,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Play with Fire,” etc.).
“Moonshine explores the emotional, sometimes dark stories of four traveling performers,” says Mahoney. “The four travelers, or troubadours—two women, two men—interact like a family or a group of friends, and Bruce’s contemporary movement creates abstractions that allow the audience to draw their own conclusions about the action.”
This piece marks Bruce’s debut with Nashville Ballet. Also, in a special concession to the company, no royalties were charged by Dylan’s publishers.
After the intermission, the ballet program’s major piece commences—choreographer Gina Patterson’s 45-minute interpretation of the music of Nashville-based singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones, who performs selections from his CD Land of the Living live onstage. The performance also offers an extra-visual component as painter Emily Leonard works on a large (7’ x 22’) canvas in full audience view.
“I’ve always loved all kinds of music,” Patterson says. “I gravitate toward experimentation, and I love collaborating with singer-songwriters. When I heard Matthew’s music I immediately felt a connection. So I familiarized myself with his work, and we started having conversations about music and process and inspiration.”
Entitled …but the flowers have yet to come, Patterson’s work was first presented in Nashville in 2013. It features the efforts of the ballet’s main company plus apprentices, a twenty-two-strong ensemble led by gifted, homegrown, Nashville Ballet-trained talents Jon Upleger, Christopher Stuart, Mollie Sansone, and Sadie Bo Sommer.
“I think the success of the piece,” continues Patterson, “is that it is unfiltered. From Matthew to Emily to the dancers—everyone allows themselves to be vulnerable, and the audience will see and feel truth, and that’s what makes it a powerful work. As for the style of the dance, I would say my language has become a mix of classical and contemporary. The lines are blurred, but it’s geared more toward the modern.”
With Jones singing live, along with his band and a second vocalist, and with artist Leonard painting over the course of three days, this program might certainly be considered epic.
“It reflects an emotional journey,” concludes Patterson, “in which we may not have all the answers but know we are moving in the right direction.”
Attitude will be presented at TPAC’s Polk Theater February 13 (7:30 p.m.), February 14 (7:30 p.m.), and February 15 (2 p.m.). For tickets and more information visit www.tpac.org. Check out our interview with Emily Leonard for more about her collaboration with the Nashville Ballet.