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Symphony, ballet join forces
Tim Broekema photo The presentation of Carmina Burana at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center was part of the twin bill with Layla and the Majnun earlier this month. The audience was spellbound during the hour-long performance by the Nashville Ballet and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Nothing less than superior genius could bring together two challenging shows, including a world premiere, in a weekend of dazzling, kaleidoscopic dance, light and music. Paul Vasterling--CEO, artistic director and choreographer at Nashville Ballet--achieved this triumph with power to spare.

Brilliantly marshaling the forces of the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, an ensemble from the Nashville Children’s Choir, and the gravity-mocking professional dancers of Nashville Ballet, Vasterling presented the twin bill of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” and Richard Danielpour’s “Layla and the Majnun” April 22-24 in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Jackson Hall.

The kinetic impact of the two works, both with original choreography by Vasterling, was reinforced by the lighting design of Scott Leathers, staging by Timothy Rinehart Yeager and costumes and visuals by Eric Harris.

With the sure-footed performance by members of the Nashville Symphony under principal guest conductor Nathan Fifield, the Carmina glowed with the medieval charm and, alternately, despair of the Latin, French and German texts discovered in the 19th Century in a Bavarian monastery. When German composer Carl Orff set the poems to music in 1936, he could scarcely have guessed his work, after lying most mostly ignored for decades, would explode in popularity many years later. The complete opus is one of the most recorded of all 20th Century classics, and the tunes have found their way into varsity sports cheers and, sacrilegiously, in television ads for everything from cars to diet supplements of dubious value.

The Nashville Ballet cast holds its own with the world’s most illustrious dancers and legendary companies. With the electrifying Julia Eisen as Fortuna in the opening scene, the audience was instantly drawn into Vasterling’s enchanting space of other-worldly imagery.

While many Southern Standard readers are familiar with “Carmina Burana,” music for the other ballet in the weekend twin bill will be new, but nonetheless engaging and admirable.  In “Layla and the Majnun” American composer Richard Danielpour (b 1956) transports in the world of ancient Persian folklore in a tale that resonates with the universal elements of youthful love, obsession, death and reunion in a blissful afterlife.  Nashville Ballet’s Kayla Rowser as Layla/the Beloved and Brett Sjoblom as Quays/the Majnun, supported by Judson Veach as the groom and Jon Upleger in the role of the father, gorgeously realized visions that seemed impossibly delicate, constantly on the precipice and subject to shattering.

The public arts in Middle Tennessee and everywhere depend on the private support of individuals, businesses and foundations, and many of those are recognized in concert and exhibit programs.  Especially noteworthy in the Layla production was the underwriting by Maureen and James Danly, enabling the artistic commission by Nashville Ballet.  And among the most generous and constant corporate patrons is Bridgestone Americas, whose Warren Plant manufactures the world’s best truck and bus tires while providing quality employment as well as educational and civic enrichment to this community.