Three esteemed Nashville arts organizations join forces for Nashville Ballet's Emergence 

Triple Threat

Triple Threat

Each year, the Nashville Ballet's Emergence series provides the unique opportunity for audience members to get a close look at the creative process. Presented in the ballet's Sylvan Park studio, Emergence offers an intimate setting for both performers and spectators in a workshop-style program that's always ripe for improvisation, collaboration and the debut of new works.

"My only rule is that you have movement to the music that's there," says Paul Vasterling, Nashville Ballet's artistic director and CEO. "When you take away these deadlines, when you take away the pressure of performing it, of having a finished piece, more creativity can happen."

Which is not to say the Ballet doesn't treat Emergence like a real performance; rather, they invite the audience in to watch as a work of art comes to life. In the ballet's rehearsal space, you sit close enough to hear the dancers' breath, and even the sound of their feet landing on the studio floor. Post-performance, the choreographers may converse with the audience or request feedback, and Vasterling says it's not uncommon for these pieces to reappear, perhaps amended, in the ballet's repertoire.

This year's Emergence will present three works by Pulitzer-Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, including an original composition called Amorisms. A co-commission between the ballet, Alias Chamber Ensemble and choral group the Portara Ensemble, Amorisms marks the first collaboration between these three local arts organizations. For violinist Zeneba Bowers, Alias' founder and artistic director, Emergence allows more freedom in the performance of classical music than you might expect.

"In general, when people come to concerts, they're expecting a put-together show, and people expect that because they're used to it," Bowers says. "But when you step away from that and make it more personal and a little bit more immediate, people really respond to that. Because the packaged nature of those formal shows can be kind of oppressive — when I'm supposed to clap, when I'm supposed to laugh — and we want to scrub a lot of that. You still want to enjoy this music generally in quietness, and you can hear what's going on, but we want people to feel, as we do frequently, when we play something."

While Alias premiered Amorisms earlier this month, Emergence will be the first performance of the work paired with dance. Vasterling says the company had roughly three weeks of rehearsal time to prepare for Emergence — which equals about 40 to 50 hours — to present a sort of "first draft" of a work. This quick turnaround lies in the able hands of three in-demand choreographers: James Gregg (Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, River North Dance Company), Nashville native Banning Bouldin (founder of New Dialect dance collective) and Gina Patterson, who recently collaborated with singer-songwriter Matthew Perryman Jones for the Nashville Ballet's Attitude series in 2013's ... But the Flowers Have Yet to Come.

"This kind of collaboration, premiering a brand-new work — a ballet from a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer presented with all live music and national-class musicians and dancers — is not something that just happens everywhere," Vasterling says. "I think it's because we're in Nashville, and I think it's because we have this love of talent here. We're willing to collaborate. I think that's really important. You can't even go to New York and get that kind of thing. The synergy here is really important."

And year after year, this collaborative spirit attracts not only the performers, but also a receptive, open-minded audience eager to be dazzled by something new.

"Emergence always sells out," Bowers says. "That's a huge deal, because it's not every town that would have an audience base that is definitely interested in new dance and new music together. And a lot of other towns, if this were put on, there would be five guys out there in black turtlenecks and berets, and that would be it. But in our town, we have a lot of us who are interested in the artistic, creative process, whether it be in the ballet, the opera, or with us, or the symphony, or the Frist. There's just a lot of that communal art feeling."

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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