Room to Move 

Nashville Ballet program shows off dancers

Nashville Ballet program shows off dancers

Nashville Ballet celebrated its 15th-anniversary season last weekend at TPAC’s Polk Theater. Friday night’s highly eclectic program ranged from acknowledged masterpieces, such as Balanchine’s 1934 ballet “Serenade,” to the contemporary work of artistic director Paul Vasterling, including “Volver,” his newest piece, and “Seasons,” first performed in 1997. Together, the selections reflected Vasterling’s ambitions to show off the dancers in a diverse repertoire of contemporary and classical ballet.

Three of the pieces were designed for duos or trios, providing company members a chance to stretch their muscles and demonstrate what they can do. In “Volver,” Vasterling offered a wonderful vehicle to newcomers Christine Rennie and Eddie Mikrut, bringing to the fore their highly individualistic styles. The choreography blended jazz movements with those taken from Spanish classical dance, a form characterized by elegance and restraint that is seldom seen in this country. Rennie, a diminutive spitfire, abruptly shifted direction in rapid-fire fashion and managed to maintain correct body placement throughout. She and partner Mikrut make a good team: At one point they looked across the stage and actually grinned at each other. Such is an unusual occurrence in a balletic pas de deux, but they managed to make it believable.

“Two’s Company,” on the other hand, did not show dancers to their best advantage. Alexander Srb and Eric Harris, fine dancers both, were stuck with Toni Pimble’s unflattering choreography, which looks far better set for the female body—in this case Kathryn Beasley’s—than the male. The two men were permitted very few leaps or big bravura steps and instead had to run about in confined spatial patterns that forced them to take absurdly small steps. The choreographer consistently used windmill arms, which looked lovely on Beasley but seemed a bit overdone for the men.

Salvatore Aiello’s pas de deux “Satto” elicited great cheers from the audience. Alexei Khimenko has never looked so good as he did in this piece. He was intensely focused and brought out the primitive energy and sexual power that the choreography calls for. Danielle Quill showed a mature understanding of her complex character—part siren, part wind goddess. She wrapped herself with voluptuous abandon around the first man who came along, and then drifted away to who-knows-where. The dancers expertly flipped from one astonishing pose to another, but it was their restrained passion that set the audience calling for more. This one’s a keeper, for sure.

The program opened with George Balanchine’s “Serenade,” his first ballet created in America, and a piece designed for a young company of dancers. This piece has been in the Nashville Ballet repertoire for some time, but it is showing a certain neglect; lines were ragged and arms out of synch. Some of these problems can be attributed to the intense production schedule in which the company finds itself—Nashville Ballet opens Dracula in collaboration with Nashville Children’s Theatre this weekend and finished another program just a few weeks ago—but even so, one rudimentary technical error should not be so easily excused: Tchaikovsky’s luscious music was marred by the sound of crashing feet when the corps de ballet leapt or ran. As certain dancers leapt forward, their upper bodies leaned backward ever so slightly. Rather than fall, cat-like, over the ball of the foot, they landed on their heels—kaboom! Such weighty expression is hardly consonant with the image of the waif-like sylphid who is the ballet’s trademark.

The soloists in this ballet were another story. Alisha Murray seems made for this role, so musically sure of herself was she; her dance was characterized by big, bold arm gestures and a flowing lyricism. Kathryn Beasley started out slowly, almost missing her musical cues because she was so languid. But then things picked up in the waltz section, and she galloped energetically to and fro. In the apotheosis scene of the finale, she looked positively radiant as she rose high above three men who carried her toward the wings.

The varied program did what it was designed to do: It showed what the dancers were capable of, although it also showed what some were not capable of. But on the whole, the evening was a success. Certain performers surprised the audience with their power, others danced up to their usual high standards, and several young apprentice dancers showed high promise. All in all, it was a night for the soloists to shine, and it intimated more good things to come.

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