Dance on: Ballet in the Park returns for its second year

Close your eyes. Now imagine you are at the ballet. What do you hear? The pitter-patter of feet across the stage? The stifled cough the gentlemen next to you is trying to hold back because the show is reaching its climax? Or is it the music bouncing off the walls, slipping notes into your ears?

Well, at Ballet in the Park you might just hear an ambulance wail down West End or a helicopter on their way to Vanderbilt Medical Center. And, according to Dance Theatre of Tennessee’s (DTT) Artistic Director Christopher Mohnani, it’s all part of the challenging rewards of hosting the city’s only outdoor ballet dance performance.

Now in its second year, Ballet in the Park is back for not one but two weekends in September with its final performance set to kick off the city’s month long celebration of the arts, Artober. 

Last year’s event, the first Ballet in the Park, was plagued by uncooperative weather resulting in only two full performances. But from those two performances, over 1,300 people came to Centennial Park to witness DTT’s performance of Carmen.

And while they cannot predict the weather, Mohnani has high hopes about this year’s attendance. “The feedback we got last year was that a lot of people were upset that by the time they knew about it, it was done. So hopefully having two weekends this time there’ll be more opportunities for people to come and see it and leeway in case the weather does not work with us.”

Weather is not the only challenge when hosting an outdoor event like Ballet in the Park. “There are so many challenges to doing a ballet theatrical experience in a park,” Mohnani explained. “It’s little things like making sure the sets are holding up and the wind is not blowing them or creating a theater experience like backstage and having a crossover so the audience is not seeing the dancers preparing. We even had to get a floor to put across the concrete stage, a special linoleum floor for ballet and take it up every night. Every day is almost an initial set up.”

But the work that goes into staging Ballet in the Park is a labor of love for Mohnani. “I'm always excited with Ballet in the Park because the very first ballet in the Philippines was a Don Quixote ballet in the park,” he shared. “I didn't know I was going to end up a professional ballet dancer as a career but I was just so enthralled by it. That's the same thing I’m hoping—that there a lot more Christopher’s out there that will end up not just being ballet dancers but loving the art form and continuing to support it.

Ballet in the Park is not only the kickoff to Artober but also DTT’s fourth season. Mohnani admits to struggling to establish DTT over the last four years but if his recent Emerging Leaders Award from the Nashville Chamber of Commerce is any indication, those struggles are paying off.

“I think the key is to measure your success to your own journey. It's tough. We started this during a time when the economy collapsed and there's already such a heavy and longtime arts organization in the city and a very successful existing dance company in the city. For us to come in we knew it was going to be a challenge but I am still surprised at the amount and the speed of growth that we have been experiencing. That tells me that despite the challenges that there is room for somebody like us and there is a need for what we have to give.”

And this year, Mohnani and DTT will give audiences another tragic love story—Giselle. For Mohnani, selecting the ballet is easy, “I honestly believe that bringing story ballets are the best because the audience is sitting down, watching and going through the journey with the dancers. I feel like Giselle is the perfect traditional classical ballet starter. The story is easily relatable; it's about a girl who falls in love but he’s already engaged to someone else and dies of a broken heart. She comes back in the afterlife and forgives the guy in order to save him from dying himself.”

DTT presents Giselle and Ballet in the Park will take place September 20-22 and then again September 27-30 at 7:30 p.m.. The cost is free but DTT suggests a $10 donation. “We are trying to condition the audience that sure they are coming to the park and seeing this and it is what you can expect when you go to an actual theater but with that you have to pay a certain amount,” Mohnani explained.

But you can’t put a price tag on the other entertainment DTT has planned for Ballet in the Park. There will of course be food vendors but also pre-show entertainment each night starting at 6:30 p.m.. Mohnani promises everything from singer-songwriters and the Nashville Youth Orchestra to magic from Jason Michaels and juggling from Nashville’s Playing By Air (see full schedule below).

Food vendors, singers, orchestras, jugglers, magicians and ballet? An event of these proportions understandably takes a lot to run which is why DTT has partnered with Hands on Nashville to help staff the event with volunteers. And who knows? One of those volunteers might be a ‘Christopher’ and be on that stage when Ballet in the Park hits its tenth year anniversary.    

'Like' DTT on Facebook or follow them on Twitter for more Ballet in the Park excitement.

Pre-Show Entertainment Schedule 

Sept. 20, Fri - Singer Songerwriter Annie Mosher

Sept. 21, Sat - Magician Jason Michaels

Sept. 22, Sun - Playing By Air Productions

Sept. 27, Fri - Music City Youth Orchestra

Sept. 28, Sat - Singer Songwriter Robert Gay

Sept. 29, Sun - Singer Songwriter Robert Gay

Sept. 30, Mon - Metro Parks JamBand


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