When rising concerns about COVID-19 caused arts institutions to close their doors, Nashville Ballet Artistic Director Paul Vasterling found himself wondering three questions: “Why is it that we have performances? What is it that dance does? And what is it that the arts do?”
“We always come back to the word community. The arts are all about building togetherness in a space and making deep connections with what you’re seeing,” Vasterling says. “Even though our space is different now, it’s a virtual space, we’re still thinking about how we’re connecting.”
According to Executive Director Lisa French, Nashville Ballet pulled its board and leadership together early on and created a task force to navigate each phase of this rapidly evolving situation.
“We had two guiding principles,” French explains. “We wanted to make sure we were taking care of our people — artists and staff — by keeping them paid, and we wanted to take action to ensure Nashville Ballet’s existence and stability in the future after this is all over.”
With these guiding principles in mind, the organization has committed to adapting its programs to a virtual setting as much as possible — from its School of Nashville Ballet to its company dancers.
“Yes, we do performances, but a big part of who we are is being a school,” Vasterling says. “So, we want to think of our students’ safety while continuing to teach them, inspire them, and fulfill our mission.”
Though the school remains closed until April 24, that hasn’t stopped it from sharing the transformative power of dance.
“It’s been really inspiring to see our faculty and school team respond so quickly and creatively,” French says. “They’ve turned our entire operation into an online digital school overnight, it seems.”
The School of Nashville Ballet is offering the following virtual learning opportunities for students and their families in the following formats:
Children’s Division, Community Youth Division, Academy, and Young Men’s Scholarship Program
Community Adult Division
“The feedback has been really positive from students and parents,” French says, “so we’re working hard to maintain a strong connection with them during this time and keep ballet alive for all ages.”
Company dancers will also be getting their time to shine through Q&A’s and live performances. With many still under contract, the hope is to get company dancers in the studio in the coming weeks — even if they must go in by themselves. Vasterling says the goal will be to film digital content, both with interviews and real dancing.
“I mean, you can do a lot in your living room,” he explains, “but the impetus of ballet dancers is to defy gravity, right? That’s why jumping is so important in our world, because it defies gravity — it reaches up toward something more. So, to have them on the floor certainly expands their opportunity for creativity.”
In addition to taking advantage of its amazing artists with new digital content, the Ballet plans to recycle past archival performances in the weeks to come.
“We’re going to be releasing a couple of the ballets from the Attitude (Posters and There I Was) series to our subscribers, donors, and school families through expiring links,” Vasterling divulges. “So, you can still have your Saturday night at the Ballet.”
Nashville Ballet’s digital footprint continues to expand with last week’s release of Rhiannon Giddens’ “Trees on the Mountain” music video featuring Vasterling’s choreography danced by Nashville Ballet company dancers.
Vasterling says the project’s completion is nothing short of a miracle.
“We’re lucky we did it when we did,” he explains. “The tornado hit the night before we were going to shoot it. The director called me and asked if we should call it off. I was still in a daze and said, ‘no, let’s just do it.’ It’s crazy how it all lined up.”
Giddens, who worked with Nashville Ballet previously for her score to the Shakespeare-inspired Lucy Negro Redux, also just launched “Art Is Alive,” a new website assisting artists and creative communities affected by COVID-19 and collecting resources for donations, financial aid, at-home performances, how to file for unemployment and more.
See the video, as well as the virtual offerings School of Nashville Ballet has to offer, below.
Early childhood developmental milestones are infused into our daily curriculum. Children develop a love for movement and the arts while practicing cognitive skills, gross motor skills and creative problem solving. Girls and boys develop balance, rhythm and coordination while learning essential social skills and classroom etiquette.
School of Nashville Ballet offers a variety of dance classes just for boys. Classes are taught by male teachers for male students pinpointing age-appropriate skills, allowing them to grow both as dancers and young men. Team-building and high-energy activities are major areas of focus in boys classes.
New Perspectives is a universally accessible dance program created and taught by Occupational Therapist Hannah Mariani, OTD, OTR/L, and Linnea Swarting, Nashville Ballet company member with adaptive dance education training. This new program is developed to provide an opportunity for children with special needs to experience the joy of dance, while developing body awareness, coordination, and balance in a traditional studio environment.
Our Community Division Youth Classes introduce dancers to the fundamentals of classical ballet education using the foundation of the School of Nashville Ballet syllabus. Students enrolled in Community Division Youth Classes receive high caliber training from School of Nashville Ballet faculty in an environment that establishes a foundation for dance education and continued technical development. Youth classes are open to ages 9 to 18, offering Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced placements.
Male and female dancers require different skills to perform different roles, so why should their training all be the same? Nashville Ballet’s Young Men’s Scholarship Program offers specialized training for young men, tailored to their unique needs and taught by men. Working together, male dancers push themselves and each other in a supportive environment that centers on athleticism, strength, camaraderie and discipline.
School of Nashville Ballet faculty members carefully nurture each student’s technical execution, artistic expression and maturity. Through careful development and attention to the syllabus, our instructors implement a curriculum that is designed to produce dancers with both expressivity and clear classical lines. This guidance enables students to develop their own artistry, while pure classical technique provides the vehicle for their artistic expression.
The Professional Training Division (PTD) is a comprehensive program for pre-professional dancers, designed to further develop technique, strength and artistry in a rigorous environment. Dancers selected for this program are chosen for their talent and potential to pursue a career in professional dance. Our goal is to grow students into artists and to assist them in their transition to professional dancers with Nashville Ballet, Nashville Ballet 2 or other professional dance companies.
School of Nashville Ballet’s Community Division Adult Classes offer a welcoming environment for students age 18 and up of any experience level. Whether you are new to dance, rediscovering a passion for movement, continuing your dance education or finding new ways to stay fit, Community Division Adult Classes classes can help you achieve your goals.