Nashville Ballet reprises its family-friendly fairytale, and Artistic Director Paul Vasterling loves the joyfulness young kids bring to the production.
This is the first of a three-part preview of Nashville Ballet’s Cinderella, on stage Sept. 16 – 18 at TPAC. Pictured above: Children rehearsing for the production.
“They remind me of why we dance and why I got into the business,” says Paul Vasterling, Nashville Ballet’s artistic director/CEO, about working with the cast of young children in the company’s production of Cinderella. More than 40 children ages 5 – 7 from the School of Nashville Ballet perform in the fairytale ballet as bumble bees, snow angels and other whimsical characters.
Local kids are no strangers to the Nashville Ballet stage. Several youngsters 8 and older share the stage every holiday season with the professional company dancers in Nashville’s Nutcracker, and Vasterling says he enjoys getting to work with even younger kids in Cinderella.
“I tell the ballet masters what I’m looking for and the types that I want to be in specific roles,” Vasterling says of the casting of children. “The great thing about Cinderella is that we allow the younger age group into the show, so you get a whole other set of little kids, and they’re so cute and so fresh,” he adds.
Children certainly bring a special magic and charm to the stage, and the process of watching and working with them is one Vasterling finds inspiring. “This idea of freedom and creativity especially at that age — before 9 — they’re just so open and excited and truthful and all those wonderful things that we get to watch. There’s something magical just understanding the child within yourself when you see them,” says Vasterling. “For me, it’s affirming to see them, and I see them every year, and I have the same reaction. They’re just so sweet and they make me feel happy,” he adds.
Vasterling’s office at the Nashville Ballet headquarters in Sylvan Park overlooks the studios, including the big one. He enjoys watching the kids, and sometimes will head downstairs just to be with them. He reflects on visiting them during one of their early Cinderella rehearsals: “Ballet Master Allison Zamorski had extra time at the end of one of the first rehearsals with them, so she let a bunch of these little 6-year-olds do this ‘free dance.’ Basically, she turned on music to let them dance, and when she turned it off they had to freeze. Oh my god, it was so cool and so fascinating. I was just glued to it because they were so wonderful, and the way they were moving — they just looked so joyful. I loved it!”
Cinderella is a ballet that’s great for kids and families, Vasterling says, for many reasons. One, the length is doable. It’s in three acts, which are each short. “When I edit ballets, I try to do it at a contemporary pace because people’s attention spans are less than what they were, including mine!” he says. “It’s very colorful and beautiful and charming and silly. The kids watched the rehearsal yesterday — they’re a great test audience — and they were laughing and loving the antics of the stepsisters and the beauty of Cinderella and her prince. It’s a great ballet for kids in the audience, because they can see their peers who are their age along with seeing professional dancers they might want to be like,” Vasterling adds.
Nashville Ballet’s approach to Cinderella draws from older styles of the story. Kids will see a more assertive leading lady versus the more traditional “victim” version we’re used to. “This Cinderella is assertive and takes more control of her fate than other versions of the story,” says Vasterling. “For example, when she goes to the ball she’s the one who goes to the prince and approaches him. She doesn’t wait for him to come to her. She takes control of the opportunity and makes the best of it,” he adds.