A note on ‘Modern Masters’ from company dancer, Katie Vasilopoulos

We at TPAC are thrilled to have Nashville Ballet present Modern Masters, May 4-6, 2018 in Andrew Jackson Hall! Highlighting the distinctly delightful styles of three internationally renowned choreographic geniuses, Modern Masters features dance icon Jiří Kylián’s Six Dances, Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s (choreographer for An American in Paris) Ghosts and Western Symphony by George Balanchine, commonly known as the father of American ballet. Nashville Ballet company dancer Katie Vasilopoulos shares firsthand why Modern Masters is such a significant production for her…

Katie Vasilopoulos

Growing up, it wasn’t always easy to make it to see ballets all the time, even though I was living in New York. What really drew me to dance and inspired me to pursue ballet as a career was watching videos of famous ballets. I had quite a collection, but one of my most watched by far was a VHS tape called Balanchine’s Celebration. For those who know Balanchine, this had several of his most iconic works on it—Agon, Stars and Stripes, Who Cares? and Western Symphony—to name a few. The tape didn’t even have all of Western Symphony; it was just this little section of the video that showed the fourth movement, and I watched it over and over. It was absolutely captivating to me and even then, I knew I wanted to do that role. As soon as it was announced that we were doing Western Symphony here at Nashville Ballet, I knew that was what I was working for – I had to be the principal girl in the fourth movement.

To start our season, we always have meetings with our ballet masters to discuss our upcoming goals. I went into my meeting and made it very clear that my goal was fourth movement in Western Symphony. Our ballet masters are so nice and so encouraging, but of course they couldn’t just give me the role. They kindly reminded me that Victoria Simon, an admired répétiteur from the George Balanchine Trust, would come in to set the ballet, and in that role, she would be responsible for all casting decisions. They told me to keep working hard and sent me on my way.

Then I had my yearly review meeting with Paul and Sharyn, our Artistic Director & CEO and Director of Artistic Operations respectively, and I went in to that meeting with the same determined mentality and told them that I wanted to be the principal girl in the fourth movement of Western Symphony. Similarly, they reminded me that casting was out of their hands. They mentioned that Ms. Simon would be a stickler for Balanchine tradition and that a tall girl was typically cast for that role. I started to feel a little encouraged because that would work in my favor, and then they mentioned that the role was originally danced by a blonde. The wheels started turning in my head, but before I could say or do anything rash, Paul looked at me very adamantly and told me that if I showed up with blonde hair in class, I’d be in big trouble! There were moments when I still considered it, but I knew Paul, and everyone else, was right—what would ultimately help me land the role was simply to work my hardest.

The season flew by in a blur, as they always do, and before I knew it, Ms. Simon was in Nashville to stage Western Symphony. Ms. Simon is extraordinary at what she does and so it doesn’t take her very long to decide who she wants to cast for a ballet. She watched our class that morning and after class, she lined us up to make sure heights would work for her plan and then she started announcing who would be in each movement. First, she called out dancers for the first movement and I was still in line. My heart started to race. She called out the dancers who would be in the second and third movements and I remained in the line. I looked around the room and finally let myself consider that I might have landed my dream role. Nonetheless, I was in disbelief as Ms. Simon called my name for fourth movement. I tried so hard to contain myself, but I couldn’t stop smiling.

The first day of rehearsals, I couldn’t wait to get to work. Before Ms. Simon could even start teaching, I was running through the steps. She paused in shock and asked if I’d done the role before, suggesting that it certainly seemed that way. Of course, I had to admit that I had not, but instead had fallen in love with it years ago and hadn’t stopped watching it since.

I know that anyone who comes to see Modern Masters will fall in love with Western Symphony the same way I did as a little girl. This is such an important performance for me, as well as the whole company; it’s an absolute dream come true to dance in this role, and I can’t wait to share this piece with the people of Nashville.

Modern Masters tickets start at $28 and can be purchased online, by phone at (615) 782-4040 or in person at the TPAC box office in downtown Nashville. Visit Nashville Ballet’s website for more information.