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BWW Review: EMERGENCE Exudes Artistic Expression and Individuality

The Nashville Ballet has a special way of producing unique works you've never seen before. EMERGENCE is its yearly production that opens viewers eyes to the creative process, offering an "artistic experiment" unlike any other, and the 2017 production is no exception.

The first demonstration, "Test Drive," choreographed by Susan Shields, was perhaps the most upbeat performance of opening night on Thurs., June 1, with each of the dancers exhibiting natural chemistry with one another. Kayla Rowser and Judson Veach demonstrated grace and ease as they performed the number's first routine, "Good to You," adding a spark of sensuality as they performed each move with elegance. What was particularly interesting about "Test Drive" was the fact that the dancers almost looked like human sculptures come to life, as their fluid movements, combined with stressed poses, added a sense of dynamic to the show. The ensemble number that closed out the performance offered a bit of fun, as the segment overall was a mix of joy, emotion, grace and playfulness. The original music by Johnny P., who performed the set live, brought a dash of jazz to the ballet, two art forms one wouldn't always pair together, but came together beautifully.

Jennifer Archibald did an impeccable job choreographing the second number, "Superstitions," revealing before the performance that she uses "aesthetics" in the piece that combines hip-hop and classical music. Archibald made the eclectic match work seamlessly, as the performance started off with a haunting cello solo as the dancers dramatically took the stage for the moving piece. While more solemn and melancholy than "Test Drive," "Superstitions" offered just as much emotion and grace. Gerald Watson was particularly graceful with his movements, with the dancers as a whole interacting with each other intricately and with poise. The performance came to an exciting close with vivacious energy that found the music getting faster and the dancers' movements fitting together like puzzle pieces, playing off of each other well.

Perhaps the most intimate number of the production comes in the form of the final dance "sketchbook of one reflecting on CHANGE," choreographed by Shabaz Ujima. The theatre was dark for the first few minutes before a subtle spotlight was shone on the dancers, whose tribal-like clothing and bongo-driven music made it feel as though we'd been transported to the jungle. There was a lot of interaction among the dancers and a thread of strength weaved throughout the number. But a truly unique element was added when one of the musicians stopped mid-performance to explain how the classical tabla music is taught by assigning certain syllables to specific beats. Before the performance, Ujima encouraged audience members to move in their seats and hinted that audience interaction was a part of the process - and he wasn't kidding. The dancers then pulled audience members on stage with them, encouraging them to free their spirits and sway along to the beat. Even more intrigue was mixed in when the dancers formed a circle, singing the syllables like a Gregorian chant, each taking turns singing a part before they came together in unison. Ujima created not just a performance, but an experience, that managed to take the audience to a different place, with one's mind feeling a bit freer at the show's conclusion.

Nashville Ballet CEO Paul Vasterling made a strong point when he said that one of the many facts that makes the local ballet stand out is the fact that dancers perform to live music that has been newly composed. The presence of live music not only adds an unmatchable dynamic, but takes the performance to a whole new level. It helps reimagine the art form of ballet, as EMERGENCE musicians Johnny P., Cristina Spinei and Kirby Shelstad brought the production to life in an unparalleled way, with each piece more unique than the other.

What EMERGENCE shows us is that art can take on numerous forms and while ballet may seem like it follows a traditional model, the Nashville ensemble has a gift for taking the form of dance across boundaries - and into the hearts of viewers.

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From This Author Cillea Houghton