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BWW Review: Nashville Ballet's ATTITUDE Offers Elegance and Intrigue at TPAC

The Nashville Ballet's 2017 production of ATTITUDE brought a host of grace, history and even a bit of edge to TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre on Thurs., Feb. 9.

The show kicked off with the intriguing "Sergeant Early's Dream," an interpretive dance set to British, Irish and American folk songs set in 19th century that tells the story of venturing from home and losing touch with one's roots in relation to immigrants who traveled from Europe to America. The dance was set in front of a backdrop of a beautiful and serene beach scene, with the combination of peach, green and soft blue costumes matching perfectly with the colors of the early morning sky scenery.

Choreographer Christopher Bruce made the traditional folk songs come to life through his elegant moves that switched from soft whimsy to excitement and energy throughout the story, making for a dynamic piece. Dancers Mollie Sansone, Sarah Cordia, Kayla Rowser, Julia Eisen, Alexandra Meister, Judson Veach, Jon Upleger, Brett Sjoblom and Logan Hillman all did an impeccable job of telling this story that combines love, heartache and the elements of an emotional journey. The cast truly shined on the final composition, "Barbara Allen," a haunting song about the death of one's true love that elicited a performance equal parts harrowing, thoughtful and poignant.

One doesn't often associate Irish music with ballet, but the Nashville Ballet pulled it off seamlessly, smoothly transitioning from traditional ballet movements to ones that incorporated fast-paced Irish dancing, with all of the dancers mastering both styles flawlessly. While ballet may give the impression of being a gentle art form, ATTITUDE has managed to add a sense of action and jovialness to the dance, shown off beautifully in "Sergeant Early's Dream."

Dan Brayall, Fran Breen, DJ Daly, Eamonn Dillon, Joe Khoury and Derek Pell were exceptional musicians, brilliantly bringing to life the sounds of Ireland in the most their authentic sound and stellar vocals, each song better than the last.

Just one of the many aspects that makes ATTITUDE unique is the presence of the music on stage. Often times, the musicians are tucked away in the orchestra pit, but Nashville Ballet takes the production to a new level by featuring the players as an active part of the show. It makes for a more dynamic experience, allowing the musicians' talents to be both seen and heard.

Only in Nashville can one see a tribute to the legendary Johnny Cash coupled with the beauty of ballet, both of which were brought to life with the main segment, "Under the Lights," with music from the incredible local band, Sugar + The Hi-Lows, who performed several of the Man in Black's biggest hits as performers brought them to life through dance.

After extensive research from choreographer Christopher Stuart, who even sat down with Cash's son John Carter Cash to gain deeper insight into the star, Stuart put together an incomparable production that represents Johnny and June at different stages in their lives. The opening itself was breathtaking, with the dancers' silhouettes projected onto a screen, adding a dramatic flair as each one made their entrance on the stage one by one before an amazing performance set to "I Walk the Line."

The energy kicked up a notch with the upbeat "Jackson" and continued with "Two Day High," which combined moves reminiscent of a 1950s sockhop with traditional ballet, serving as a crowd favorite of the night. "Hurt" offered an appropriately dramatic opening that was made that much more vivid by Mollie Sansone's passionate movements that reflected the song's somber lyrics, with the ensemble's equally dramatic choreography adding dynamic to the number.

A standout performance of the night came with "I've Got You Covered," a Sugar + The Hi-Lows original, which added even more flourish to the show when a shimmering disco ball lit up the dark theatre, adding an alluring element to the staging. Dancers Kayla Rowser and Jon Upleger demonstrated particular grace and serenity with their moves, synchronizing beautifully and both showing tremendous skill as Upleger masterfully balanced Rowser while holding her in pose in the air.

The production closed out with Cash's gritty "God's Gonna Cut You Down" that ended with a captivating giant cross displaying a striking quote from the legendary singer about music and death, as the dancers lining up behind it with one standing in the middle, his silhouette striking a fierce pose guitar in hand, brining a fabulous and unique show full circle.

The Sugar + The Hi-Lows were an outstanding addition to the production, powerfully honoring the legacy of Cash while also showing off their own unique sound. The humble group managed to accomplish something artists rarely can - take the hits from an icon and make it their own, while honoring it's traditional message while simultaneously keeping it fresh. From the upbeat "Jackson" to the somber "Hurt," the group truly captured the essence of Cash's songs will also adding their own flair to it, making the experience as a listener that much more enjoyable.

What ATTITUDE does so beautifully, apart from the impeccable dancing and amazing music, is that it forces the viewer to see the art of ballet outside of the traditional realm. It takes the serene art form and adds grit, whimsy and even some playful tongue-in-cheek moments that add a dose of humor. You'll walk into the theatre expecting to see a typical ballet show and walk out with an entirely new perspective on the art and what exactly can be accomplished with it.

ATTITUDE is so much more than just a ballet, it's a one-of-a-kind piece of interpretive art. Nashville Ballet has powerfully combined the serenity of ballet with modern day dance and the unmatchable creative energy of Music City - with plenty of attitude mixed in.

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From This Author Cillea Houghton