Nashville Ballet collaborates with visual and music artists to change the way you think about ballet 

Not So Still Life

Not So Still Life

Nashville Ballet artistic director and CEO Paul Vasterling wants to challenge what you think about ballet.

With "Attitude," a program composed of three distinct works by young, contemporary choreographers, Vasterling & Co. promise a lot of surprises and an artistic experience that will move you both visually and aurally.

"This program is about defying people's expectations about what ballet is," Vasterling explains. "We want people to think about this idea of a new attitude, and come and be surprised with our new attitude. It's not something I can even describe; I know most people who have never been before are quite surprised with this program because it completely defies their expectations."

The first work in "Attitude," choreographer Sarah Slipper and composer Michael Kurek's Ploughing the Dark, was created in 2004 in partnership with the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt. A passionate duet, Ploughing the Dark was originally performed in the ballet's Emergence series, a program that profiles new works from emerging artists.

The second portion of the program marks the Nashville premiere of Dominic Walsh's The Whistling, a spirited ballet set to Cuban music from the '40s and '50s. Whistling won the audience favorite award at Ballet Austin's So You Think You Can Dance-style choreographic competition in 2010, where Vasterling served as a judge. "I put it on my list, and that was 2010," Vasterling recalls. "There's a long list of ballets that I want to do, particularly in this series, that sometimes it takes me a while to get to it."

Perhaps the most anticipated portion of "Attitude" is the world premiere of a work titled ... But the Flowers Have Yet to Come, a collaboration between choreographer Gina Patterson and two Nashville-based artists, singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones and visual artist Emily Leonard. Patterson, an old friend of Vasterling's — the two danced together at Ballet Austin — has collaborated with the Nashville Ballet before, and for this new work, Vasterling wanted to try something completely different.

"One evening in November of 2011," Vasterling says, "I went to the Art Crawl, and I saw all the people there, and I thought, 'Wow, these folks would really be surprised at how connected and how similar these works that we do onstage are to this new visual art. How can I get these people to come?' There was a challenge for myself. Wouldn't it be cool if we could do a collaboration with a visual artist?"

Vasterling pitched the idea to Patterson, and began to send her music from a variety of Nashville songwriters and composers.

"When Paul asked me to do the project, of course I loved the idea," Patterson says. "When he sent me Matthew's [music], I felt a connection."

When Patterson and Jones met in August 2012, Vasterling had not yet found a visual artist who fit the vision. While getting acquainted with each other and brainstorming ideas for their project, Patterson and Jones were walking at Radnor Lake when the stars — or, rather, the trees — aligned.

"Gina was constantly taking pictures of trees, and I asked if she'd ever seen Emily Leonard's work," Jones recalls. After Jones' introduction to Leonard's art, Patterson felt another strong connection. "I fell in love with it," she says. "It had all of these layers; a world that I could enter. It was perfect for what we're doing with his music, because there's so many layers to it, and it's so honest and pure and vulnerable."

Jones, who had little knowledge of dance before his work with Patterson, marveled at the similarities between the process and language behind choreography and songwriting or recording music. "It's really similar to making a record, how you bring in musicians and people that you choose by their skill set and what they offer," he says. "When you're in the studio, they'll do things you weren't planning, and that's great. I was watching Gina, how she's open to what a dancer would do. It's kind of improv, but yet there's a plan. ... It's been inspiring to see that kind of thought, care and detail put into every last little thing to see how that physicalizes the music."

Vasterling is enthusiastic about the work Jones and Patterson have done together. "Gina and Matthew were talking about how the spaces between things — between moments, between molecules — is where the spirit is, and where the inspiration lies, where the magic is," he says. "Then Emily's paintings meshed in a really wonderful way. Sometimes as a producer, I'm trying to force these things together, and it happened in this beautiful way. It became much more organic."

Patterson says large canvases — which Leonard will paint live onstage throughout each show, building on her work from the previous performance — are an integral part of the choreography. "For the dancers," she says, "I tried to create an environment where it's structured, but it's still a human being that's interpreting it, so it's very much what happens in the moment. With [Leonard], it takes it a step further. Again, there's a plan, but what colors come out, how she's inspired in the moment — hearing the music, feeling the dancers — I'm excited to see how it turns out."

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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