BWW Reviews: Sansone and Stuart Lay Claim to Ownership of Nashville Ballet's RITE OF SPRING


Mollie Sansone and Christopher Stuart on Friday night may have laid claim-both literally and figuratively-to "ownership" (however that may be perceived) of Nashville Ballet with their absolutely stunning and completely confident performances in the company's staging of Salvatore Aiello's exquisitely primal Rite of Spring.

Inspired by the original work choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and performed to the glorious music composed by Igor Stravinsky for the original Ballets Russes production, Nashville Ballet's rendition of Rite of Spring further underscores the company's artistic range and the depth of artistic director Paul Vasterling's bench, which is exemplified by Kayla Rowser and Jon Upleger in his thrilling, stirring Firebird that opens the evening's twin-bill of ballets.

With this weekend's performances marking the "retirement" of Christine Rennie and Eddie Mikrut (the married couple move on to other career challenges hereafter, including their new roles as parents of one particularly adorable newborn), who over the years have been lauded by both audiences and critics for their superb artistry and devotion to their craft-add to this the news that ballerina Caylan Cheadle will leave performance behind to become the children's program coordinator for the School of Nashville Ballet-this seems to be a time of transition for Nashville Ballet, lending further gravitas to the proceedings taking place on the expansive stage of TPAC's Andrew Jackson Hall.

Stravinsky's dual scores are performed with their expected and customary skill by the award-winning musicians of the Nashville Symphony, under the baton of guest conductor Nathan Fifield (known throughout the country for his work with numerous ballet companies), imbuing that time-honored music with a palpable freshness and exhilaration.

Vasterling continues to impress with his bold, perhaps even audacious, choices for the company. Equally adept at staging classical ballets-and creating contemporary works that rival those of the old masters-and the creation of new and somehow alarming (for lack of a better word) works that consistently force his dancers to newer and greater heights, Vasterling pushes the envelope beautifully at every turn, challenging his audiences in the process. As a result, every performance by Nashville Ballet is something new, giving both the dancers and their rapt audiences more to consider, more to grasp and more to experience.

This weekend's performances-"All Stravinsky/All The Time"-of Rite of Spring and Vasterling's own Firebird (which, since its original staging some years ago justifiably has dominated my list of favorite works by the choreographer) dovetail exquisitely into each other, the primal sensuality and blatant humanity expressed in both ensuring the perfect pairing of the two.

Stravinsky's score for Rite of Spring, which premiered in 1913, is considered the seminal ballet score of the 20th century (legend tells us that its initial performance prompted a near riot, so scandalously different and innovative was it) with its use of new and unexpected rhythms and dissonance that provide the musical accompaniment for Aiello's startling movements (staged here by ballet Master Timothy Rinehart Yeager, who was part of Aiello's original company for the ballet) which are, at once, angular and precise yet daringly erotic and unexpected.

Sansone and Stuart, who have established themselves as essential members of Vasterling's troupe of dancers, are paired in Part Two of Rite of Spring to spectacular effect, their obvious trust of each other adding energy and vitality to their performance.

Sansone's completely raw portrayal of "The Chosen One" in Aiello's ballet allows her to show her amazing skills to perfection. As beautiful and expressive as she has been in previous appearances, in Rite of Spring she zealously lays bare her artistic soul, thus elevating her performance to a starmaking turn, the likes of which only a chosen few are lucky enough to witness.

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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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