Caught in Flux 

Local choreographer pushes ahead, despite upheaval in local dance scene

Local choreographer pushes ahead, despite upheaval in local dance scene

Evolution Danse

Performing 7:30 p.m. May 23-25 at TPAC’s Johnson Theater

For information, call 352-6940

Twenty years ago, Nashville was a place where professional dance was imported, where the pretentious term “regional dance” signified an excuse for amateurish indulgence in the name of Art. More recently, however, dance has taken off here. The town is no longer just a stop on the circuit for traveling performers from the Big City, but has over the last decade become the home of several noteworthy dance companies.

Some years ago, Donna Rizzo and Andrew Krichels’ Tennessee Dance Theatre made an impression on New York Times critics and developed a following in France, while last year Nashville Ballet made a successful appearance in Switzerland. Indeed, of late, Nashville Ballet has turned into an exciting professional troupe with a hot young choreographer, ballet master Paul Vasterling. But alas, the creative zeitgeist waxes and wanes from time to time and place to place. Only a short nine months ago, Tennessee Dance Theatre dissolved, and just last week, two of Nashville Ballet’s leading dancers, the talented Alexei Khimenko and the exquisite Alisha Murray, turned in their resignations, beguiled by opportunities elsewhere.

But there’s hope yet, thanks to a new Nashville company headed by choreographer Sonjé Mayo, who has won two international gold medals at prestigious festivals in Italy and Switzerland. Every May for the last few years, Mayo has staged an annual production featuring her highly dramatic pieces, which are sometimes disturbing, sometimes satirical, but always theatrically gripping.

This coming weekend, she will showcase her dancers in a newly formed company, Evolution Danse, which will premiere two new works at TPAC’s Johnson Theater. The first, “Visitor,” explores the relationships among a mother, two daughters, and an unknown stranger who enters their world only to set them against one another. Inspired by a real-life account in USA Today, the ballet is “a bit of a thriller,” Mayo confesses with a laugh.

The other piece, “Evolution d’Amour,” is a collaboration between the choreographer and musician/composer RoyEl Wooten. The story evokes the woman’s wheel of life, tracking her development from youthful maiden to wise woman. Wooten leads his ensemble, while Brent Stewart fleshes out the multimedia event with a film that will accompany the dancers onstage.

For all the excitement occasioned by her upcoming production, Mayo realizes that the upheaval at other local dance companies will have an impact on her own troupe. In a relatively small arts community, any sort of change can have a ripple effect—growth and good fortunes raise everyone’s hopes, while hard times can lead to erosion of resources and audience support. “Nashville has proved it has an audience for alternative ballet and contemporary dance, but I need help,” she says. And it’s not a question of finding qualified dancers, she explains. “The company performers are as good as anywhere in America. They need to be seen in dance festivals around the country, if we could find the necessary institutional and financial backing to take them.”

The real challenge, then, is developing the kind of support that allows a small company to flourish. For without strong local patronage, Evolution Danse cannot survive. “If nothing comes out of this attempt, I will stop,” Mayo concedes with resignation. “If it doesn’t happen, why...try and hold people together?”

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