BWW Reviews: EMERGENCE Shows Off Artistic Collaboration At Its Very Best

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Let's face it: You have to give Paul Vasterling, the grand poobah (as both artistic director and CEO of Nashville Ballet, what other title suits him best?) of all things musical/dancical/theatrical in Music City, a whole bunch of credit for the imaginative-heretofore unexperienced-heights he has helped his company achieve and his city to claim as its own. The man has redefined the idea of collaboration while giving human form to the term "synergy" with his continuing efforts to push the creative envelope in a city filled with artistic types and their sometimes conflicting sensibilities.

Obviously, the man has chutzpah. And balls. Balls of the creative/artistic/imaginative/boundary-shattering type that the rest of we mere mortals can only hope to put out there at some point.

Most recently, Vasterling has teamed up with Zeneba Bowers, the founder and artistic director of the Grammy Award-nominated ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, to challenge the preconceived notions of artistic collaboration with Emergence, a collection of four new works that spring fully formed from the minds of some of the country's most innovative young choreographers who are teamed up with ALIAS' wildly talented and inspiring musicians and up-and-coming students from Nashville's Watkins College of Art, Design and Film. On view this weekend for audiences at Nashville Ballet's Martin Center, Emergence is an in-your-face dance experience that leaves you breathless, perhaps confounded and definitely yearning for more such compelling and challenging art.

Vasterling says the collaboration with ALIAS came in the wake of "bottles of wine and a lot of cheese" shared by the pair in their East Nashville homes, a revelry that led to the type of synergy for which both artistic entities-Nashville Ballet and ALIAS-are known for among Music City's upper echelon glitterati. The way it transpired, if memory serves, is Bowers (who neither looks nor dresses like the sister wife her first name would suggest she might be-in fact, she alone is married to ALIAS' Matt Walker) suggested musical compositions for the choreographers to use, Vasterling passed the music along (well, except the piece he kept for himself) and then Watkins students entered the fray to offer their own unique contributions to the four projects that emerged to become Emergence.

It should be noted that the 2012 offering of Emergence is the latest such series of dance works from the fertile ground of Nashville Ballet bearing that title. In fact, this year's offering is just the latest in such programming from the company, thus making it an annual event. But, truthfully, since I didn't see the earlier renditions, they don't officially exist in JefWorld for the sake of this-what shall we call it?-review, reminiscence, a memory play (where's that damn crystal unicorn, anyway?)…okay, if you insist, it's a review.

And it will be a flat-out, full-throated rave. I never feel quite so inspired or excited about the artistic possibilities in Nashville than I do when I leave a performance by the exceptionally talented dancers of Nashville Ballet. Paul Vasterling is a god, not that he should let it go to his head (and, truth be told, the unprepossessing Vasterling would never let that happen). Seriously, though, he has raised the bar time and time again, setting the standards of artistic excellence ever higher in a city where creativity abounds and artistic challenge is an everyday fact of life.

The same can be said of Zeneba Bowers (whose first name was given to her mother while she was serving in the Peace Corps in Chad; it means "father's jewel," which makes my deeply sardonic eyes water) and the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble, who pursue their musical and artistic dreams in a city better known for its far-too-heavily-influenced-by-pop-music-pablum-country-music to offer a top-flight alternative to audiences eager to embrace their efforts. In fact, in its ten years of existence, ALIAS has given its time and talents to make Nashville a better place, lending support and a beautiful musical score to the work of countless charities, social service organizations and assorted 501-c-3 entities throughout Middle Tennessee. They're good people, these stunningly, staggeringly gifted musical types, and their performances in Emergence only lends further credence to that notion.




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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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