Two years ago this month, I enjoyed one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I was invited to join the cast of Nashville Ballet’s (NB) annual production of Nutracker in the local “celebrity” role of Mother Ginger. Unbeknownst to the masses at that time, it was the final run of that particular version that NB had done annually for nearly two decades (in 2008, the company unveiled an entirely new production with a fabulously unique Nashville twist that reprises this year, Dec. 11 – 20).
Of course, it was an absolute joy to be on stage in a professional production with the talented NB cast and crew, especially in a show that has been one of the most beloved family holiday traditions in our community. The thrill of being on stage and the applause was no doubt an intoxicating adrenaline rush for me, but what struck me and inspired me even greater was the interaction I encountered with several of the kids in the cast back stage in the wings, both before and after my stint in the spotlight.
Before rolling out on stage atop the big rig in my motherly clown regalia, a few of the kids rushed to me wanting to know who I was. “Are you a football player?” one little girl asked me; she appeared to be around 10-years-old. “No, I’m a writer,” I said, and she whipped around to her fellow cast mates and excitedly cried, “He’s a writer! He’s a writer!” Then she came back at me with “What book did you write?!” My first thought was, “She is going to be so disappointed that I’m not the next J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer.” When I told her I was a writer and editor at Nashville Parent magazine, I was thrilled when she enthusiastically responded with, “THAT’S COOL! My mom reads that magazine!”
What really got to me, though, was what took place after my nearly three minutes on stage. Upon getting down out of the rig, I was surrounded by several of the kids who congratulated me on giving a “cool” performance, and then they started commenting on specific, spontaneous things I did on stage, asking how and why I thought about doing what I did. I was literally blown away to realize how intuitive and excited they were about the delivery of the performing arts, especially within the context of the glory of ballet. The realization of the passion the children expressed will inspire me for the rest of my life. I hope they hold onto their passions.
“It’s wonderful to see them inspired by the art,” says Paul Vasterling, artistic director of NB for the past 12 years. About half of the kids in the Nutcracker cast come from the School of Nashville Ballet; the other half come from open auditions with local kids. “This particular production is one we want to open up to the community to instill the fact that we are a ballet company for the city,” Vasterling says.
NB has grown by leaps and bounds since its beginning in 1981 as a civic dance company, and Vasterling’s vision and direction have been monumental in the company’s present-day success. Every season, every show is better than the last, and you can always count on being able to introduce your children to a healthy, balanced mix of important classical fare along with contemporary examples of dance today. I’m so proud of what NB brings to our community, and how it inspires our kids!