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Dance Theatre of Tennessee explores themes of love with the work of four choreographers of Asian heritage

The Universal Language



Three years ago, Christopher Mohnani formed the Dance Theatre of Tennessee with a mission to bring the beauty and magic of ballet to the people. With the troupe's latest repertory offering, East Meets West, Mohnani, who is originally from the Philippines, will bring the beauty and magic of the East to the West.

"This year, we decided that we wanted to feature choreographers who are of Asian heritage," says Mohnani, Dance Theatre of Tennessee's artistic director. "It's a rep show, which has different pieces instead of one big classical ballet."

Mohnani says he looks forward to the repertory shows each season, as it gives the dancers the opportunity to work with different choreographers and push themselves artistically.

"Ballet takes so many forms, in order to not only have the dancers continue growing, but the audience as well," he says. "We always want to make sure we're doing more edgy work that can challenge both the audience and the dancers."

For East Meets West, which runs at Father Ryan High School this weekend, Mohnani & Co. will present four pieces, each exploring a different expression of love.

The first performance, former Ballet Memphis choreographer Hazel Sabas-Gower's "Green," is an homage to Sabas-Gower's mother Luz Escalante Sabas, an environmental pioneer in the 1970s. Set to the music of Bach, "Green" has four movements representing the four elements. The grounded choreography of "earth" infuses tai chi with pointe work, while the more dynamic "fire" is filled with lots of jumping and rapid sequences.

The second work, by Manuel Molina (formerly of Venezuela's Ballet Caracas), is "Mirror, Romance and Fame," a sensual, raw performance that chronicles the insecurity, self-discovery and passion of a budding relationship. In the three movements that constitute this work, a duo uses the audience as a mirror as they move through the stages of romance, exploring themselves as individuals, and then as a couple.

"It's about two people, one female, one male, slowly exploring himself or herself in the 'mirror,' " Mohnani says. "She's a little insecure, he's a little insecure, and toward the middle of the piece, they start seeing each other. And for the first time, they see what other people are seeing, and they end up falling for each other. ... It segues into 'romance,' when they see each other, and 'fame' is when they're celebrating the union."

The intensity of the second piece, set to a melodic, haunting work by Chopin performed by a solo pianist, is alleviated by the fun, lively "Nuts." Singapore Dance Theatre's Ric Culalic's piece features the music of The Beatles interpreted by Music City Baroque, and, according to Mohnani, promises to live up to its name.

"It's a story about two young lovers just starting out with their relationship," Mohnani says. "And then the guy meets another girl ... and I'm not going to spoil the ending, but mayhem ensues."

The production is anchored by "Vinta," an ambitious piece by Ballet Philippines' Gener Caringal that Mohnani says he's most excited about. Set in Southeast Asia, the piece employs multicolored "sails" to bring the graceful beauty of sailboats from the water to the stage.

"When loved ones or relatives are sailing off, they could see where they are, from sunrise to sunset," Mohnani says of the brightly colored sails. "All these fabrics that they'll be dancing with, sometimes they're attached to bodies, or hanging from the ceiling, and sometimes they are actual sails."

Set to rhythmic electronic music by Vangelis, "Vinta" promises a strong, energetic end to a program celebrating the many different languages of love.



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