From left: Nashville Ballet resident choreographer Christopher Stuart, Maren Morris, Rayland Baxter and Nashville Ballet artistic director Paul Vasterling. Courtesy Nashville Ballet

Inside Nashville Ballet's Recent Performance with Maren Morris

Seeing a concert by one of your favorite musicians makes for a memorable experience. But sharing the stage with them while you dance? That hits it out of the park.

Enter Nashville Ballet, which regularly works with Music City stars for its annual Ballet Ball fundraiser. For its 2020 edition, held aptly on Leap Day, company dancers performed alongside country sensation Maren Morris and local indie singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter.


Dance Magazine spoke with apprentice Kennedy Brown between the final dress rehearsal and showtime, to get the scoop on the whirlwind of a celebrity performance.

The Time Line

Just two weeks out, dancers began working on the Ballet Ball performances with Nashville Ballet resident choreographer Christopher Stuart. They'd just wrapped their Attitude: Other Voices program and were back in the studio after one day off. "This was definitely a shorter turnaround time than our normal performances," says Brown.

Stuart choreographed to three of Morris' songs: "The Bones," for two couples; "Once," a pas de deux; and "The Middle," featuring the whole company.

Instead of rehearsing to the radio versions of the songs, Morris' band recorded "more raw, acoustic versions" of the tracks, says Brown, and sent them over for the company to work with ahead of the live performance.

Rayland Baxter sits on a stool while he sings and plays guitar. To his right are three female dancers in black and a male in black and white, surrounding a woman in a tall, white wig and fancy dress.

Indie rock artist Rayland Baxter perfoms with Nashville Ballet dancers at the Ballet Ball. Dancers, front row, from left: Lydia McRae, Noah Miller; back row, from left: Erin Williams, Emily Ireland-Buczek, Kennedy Brown.

Courtesy Nashville Ballet

The Choreography

Brown was cast in the large ensemble number, "The Middle," and she describes the choreography as "a little bit jazzy, contemporary and ballet. We're in our pointe shoes, so still the fluid movement, but there's a lot of dynamics. And the music is more upbeat."

"What Maren does with her music is so cool, because it brings the pop and the country together. The fact that we get to do ballet to that is really magical."

A Surprise Guest

The day before Ballet Ball, Nashville Ballet dancers were scheduled to rehearse with Morris' band. "We actually didn't think we were going to get to work with Maren that day, but at the very last second, she walked in," says Brown. "It was sort of like, 'Surprise!' " Despite only having two rehearsals with the band, Brown says, "with the caliber that they're at and just how established they are, it's been a pretty easy-going process."

Still, it's hard not to get starstruck backstage. "The little moments that we do interact in the wings, Maren's been great. She's such a talented, humble artist," says Brown. "We're all very impressed—I was getting emotional in the wings."

Preshow Rituals

To help quell any nerves before she steps onstage, Brown says, "I always have my Starbucks"—a venti cold brew—"and get in my zone with music." What's on her current rotation? "Right now, I have been pumping some Maren Morris. I can't lie."

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