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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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021