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Nashville Ballet opens new season with classic tale of tragic love in Giselle

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Nashville Ballet opens its 2009-10 season this weekend with the classic Giselle, a historically important and deeply emotional ballet in two acts. Set in the Middle Ages—and originally inspired by a work by 19th century German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine—Giselle tells the tragic story of a Rhineland peasant girl who is wooed by the lusty Prince Albrecht, already engaged to be married and, in the guise of a commoner, seeking to sow a few premarital wild oats. Seduced and abandoned, Giselle ultimately protects her spurious lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called the Wilis.

While French composer Adolphe Adam was prolific in his time, writing 60 operas and over a dozen ballets, Giselle is far and away his most well-known work. It was first presented by the Ballet du Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique in Paris in 1841, with original choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot. Modern productions generally derive their inspiration from the revivals of choreographer Marius Petipa for the Imperial Ballet in the late 1800s.

One of the big standard pieces in the ballet repertoire, this will be Nashville Ballet's fourth-ever Giselle, and the second under the direction of artistic director Paul Vasterling.

"It's a real challenge," says Vasterling, "especially since there is no available record of the original choreography." Under Vasterling's guidance, the production has been reworked by ballet masters Tim Yeager and Sharyn Wood to enhance the storytelling, with an eye toward exploiting the strength of the entire company.

Yet Giselle, with its dramatic theme of love and forgiveness, remains a showcase piece for its leading dancer, and two of the ballet's best will handle the role on alternate evenings. Veteran Christine Rennie, who has danced Giselle previously, performs the Friday and Sunday shows. The elegant Sadie Harris, making her Giselle debut, has the Saturday night slot.

"Giselle is technically demanding," says Vasterling, "and its emotional content is such that it's often referred to as 'the Hamlet of ballet.' It's a benchmark in a dancer's career."

Musical accompaniment will be provided by the Nashville Symphony under the direction of Nashville Ballet music director Paul Gambill.

The remainder of the ballet's season promises a wealth of variety, with classical material folded in neatly with more populist pursuits.

The company's distinctive Emergence series, focusing on new works, is performed Nov. 13-14 at the Martin Center for Dance in Sylvan Park. Original choreography will meet original musical pieces, and visual artists will also display their work, as the Martin Center's various studios buzz with simultaneous activity. Contributing musicians include jazz singer Benita Hill and local composer Michael Kurek. Given the venue, this is a limited-audience event, with room for about 200 people for each performance.

When the holidays roll around, Nashville Ballet will present 10 performances of its newly refurbished, Nashville-themed Nutcracker, which debuted in 2008. Show dates are Dec. 11-20 at TPAC's Jackson Hall.

Moving into 2010, the ballet presents American Originals, Feb. 12-14 in TPAC's Polk Theater. This triptych of Americana features Lew Christensen's comedic "Filling Station"; Vasterling's "Awaiting Redemption," a tender piece that reflects on the realities of growing older, created in collaboration with well-respected Nashville recording artist Hal Ketchum, who will play live at every performance; and "Who Cares?," George Balanchine's tribute to Gershwin and the golden age of Broadway.

The season concludes April 23-25 with the spring finale, A Midsummer Night's Dream, composed by Felix Mendelssohn. Shakespeare's popular tale of lovers and fairies will be performed in Jackson Hall, featuring original sets by noted designer Campbell Baird. "The story is inspiring," says Vasterling, "and the music is great, including a children's choir."

Arts A La Carte

Speaking of the Nashville Ballet, the company has joined forces with Tennessee Repertory Theatre and Nashville Opera to participate in Arts A La Carte, a terrific new promotion that offers three vouchers for $99 (plus a small handling fee), good for one performance of your choice by each of the three organizations. The offer is presented by NowPlayingNashville.com, an initiative of the Community Foundation of Tennessee that provides a one-stop source for information about Nashville's music, arts, sports, recreation and community events and opportunities. (Arts A La Carte was cited as the "Best Arts Package Deal" in last week's "Best of Nashville 2009" issue, but we erroneously listed Nashville Symphony, which is not participating, in place of Tennessee Repertory Theatre.) For information, visit nowplayingnashville.com/page/artsalacarte. Jack Silverman

Email arts@nashvillescene.com

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