There will be plenty of challenges for dancers performing the Appalachian Ballet’s Spring Show. The tough part for Amy Moore Morton though, who will reprise her role as Charlie Chaplin, will be changing genders in 4 minutes.
“The challenge for me is getting my mustache and eyebrows off and back into my evening gown to announce the second show,” said Morton. “I have four minutes to introduce music for the “Quiet Blush.” I have four minutes to change genders from Charlie to Miss Amy.”
The Appalachian Ballet’s Spring show is at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 29. The production will be held at the Bijou Theater in downtown Knoxville.
The dancers will also perform the classical “Giselle,” Act II and then a more modern piece entitled “Into the Depths.” The dancers will then perform “Quiet Blush” with accompaniment from the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra. They will finish the show dancing to the tune “Tennessee Saturday Night” while being accompanied by RobinElla Contreras and her band.
Morton said this is a very demanding show for the dancers. “Several dancers are in all five pieces. Some are in four. It’s a physically demanding show,” she said.
The flu bug that went around this winter didn’t help things either. “As everyone in Blount County knows, this flu season has been horrific,” Morton said. “We’ve had a few setbacks in rehearsals with dancers being sick. It has been a challenge.”
When asked what has stood out most to her in preparing for this production, Morton talked about the amount of planning that has gone into each piece. “It’s a lot of work, but I know it’s going to be worthwhile. I have a feeling it’s going be one that people walk away from excited and satisfied,” she said.
The ballet company has plenty of guests participating in this production. Beth Everett from New York and David Ingram from North Carolina will be dancing in “Giselle.” The Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra, directed by Sande MacMorran and RobinElla Contreras and her band also will be working with the ballet company in this production.
“Just to have the ballet supported by so many other artists I think is exciting for the dancers,” she said.
Having live music adds another dimension to any production, even in rehearsal. “Just last night we had live music in the studio while they were doing ballet they were grinning from ear to ear. It’s an adrenaline-rush, having live music, a very satisfying show,” Morton said.
This is the first time in eight to 10 years that the Appalachian Ballet has been at the Bijou Theater. “We’re excited to be there,” Morton said.
The show opens with “Giselle,” Act II. “It’s a beautiful classical ballet. It’s referred to as one of the white ballets,” Morton said.
The dancers will be in long romantic white tutus and the lead dancer is Beth Everett. “She was our Sugar Plum Fairy in the “Nutcracker,” trained with us and is now a professional ballerina. She’s flying in from New York,” Morton said. “She came in last week to set it and teach “Giselle” to the dancers.”
Morton said “Giselle” is about a 45-minute piece and is a very disciplined, classical ballet. “The girls have to stand in certain poses for two and three minutes and then switch and pose. Just standing in quite repose while others are dancing is going on is a real challenge for a ballerina,” she said. “Dancing is easier than standing still.”
Act II of “Giselle” is set in a graveyard and the title character is a dead woman named Giselle. The other dead women are Wilis, vampiric ghosts of betrothed girls who were betrayed by their lovers and died before their wedding day.
“They are basically women who have been scorned in love or left on their wedding day, and they all come out of their graves when men come into graveyard. They don’t like the men, so they dance them to death,” Morton said.
Morton said the dance the Wilis force the men to perform is called the Tarantella Dance, or the Dance of the Spider. “They force men to dance until they die. When Giselle’s love of her life, Albrecht, comes into the graveyard, she tries to keep him dancing until sunrise so his life will be spared,” Morton said. “She is successful and keeps him alive and all the Wilis go into the grave, and she has to say goodbye.”
Morton said the piece is a beautiful musical. “It’s a love story. She and Albrecht have a beautiful pas de deux, step for two, when a couple dances together,” she said.
“The second act is much lighter and brighter. We start with a comedic ballet, with “Chaplin.” It’s my short story ballet of Charlie Chaplin and the women who come in and out of his life in an afternoon in the park,” she said. “It is little vignettes, and we’re trying to copy a silent film look. Dancers are dressed in grays and black and white. I originally choreographed this in 1993.”
Morton said she’s done the part of Chaplin many times but it has been four years since she last reprised the role. “I thought it was time to resurrect it,” she said. “I’m dancing the part of Chaplin. It’s fun for me.”
After “Chaplin,” the Appalachian dancers will perform a modern piece choreographed by Laura Gagnon called “Into the Depths.” “It’s a celebration of the life of sea creatures, star fish and jellyfish and the waves and sea. The costumes are all in blues and greens,” Morton said. “It’s physically demanding. It’s only 4 minutes long but it’s very aerobic.”
Then next piece on the program is called “Quiet Blush,” and it will be performed to live music by a trio from the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra, a violin, a viola and cello conducted by Sande MacMorran, Morton said.
“It was composed by a friend of mine, Pat Rasile. He wrote it several years ago and sent me the CD. I’ve hung onto it,” she said.
In the summer of 2007 Morton went to a choreography conference in Seattle and spent 12 days creating the work based on the piece Rasile composed.
Morton said anyone who has dropped by the Van Metre School of Dance during the Last Friday Art Walks in downtown Maryville has seen the dancers rehearsing to the piece Rasile composed. “That’s one thing we were working on along with our RobinElla pieces,” she said.
Morton said the costumes for this piece are pale pink dresses that are very spring-like.
“They’re new. Angie Wood, our costume designer, made them for me. We’ve hired a male dancer to dance lead in “Quiet Blush.” His name is Jeff Diehl. He’s a professional with the Louisville Ballet,” Morton said.
The show closes with RobinElla Contreras and four band members accompanying the dancers for six or seven songs. “We’ll choose audience favorites. We’ll close with “Tennessee Saturday Night” with the entire company. We’ll have over 50 dancers on stage. It’s a big, upbeat piece of music,” Morton said. “We’re doing one of RobinElla’s favorites, so the pressure is on the dancers.”
Morton said that instead of having RobinElla, her band and the Knoxville Symphony Youth Orchestra in the orchestra pit, they will be in two boxes on either side of the stage. This gives more room for the dancers because the stage is extended over the orchestra pit.
“We’ll have the stage nice and full for the dancers,” she said. “The audience can see the musicians and dancers. We’ll light them. It highlights the musicians instead of putting them in the orchestra pit.”
John Horner is lighting designer for the production. Marilyn Dwyer is creating programs and other graphics artwork to promote the show. “If anyone has seen our artwork for the show, they know Marilyn has done a beautiful job,” Morton said.
Morton said the first act is 45 minutes long and the second act is 40 minutes long.
“To me, we’re the perfect time length for the show. The audience is getting their money’s worth but not so saturated with ballet that they’re thinking, ‘When is this going to be over?’” she said. “I think it’s going to be a good mix.”
Reserved seat tickets are on sale now at the Appalachian Ballet (865-982-8463) in downtown Maryville and through Tickets Unlimited (865-656-4444). Ticket prices are $22 in advance and $25 at the door. There is a $5 discount for seniors and students.
Sponsors for the ballet 2007-2008 performances are The Robert H. and Monica Cole Foundation, Ruby Tuesday, Campbell Cunningham & Taylor, CBBC, Kevin S. Proffitt, CFP with Northwestern Mutual, Maryville College, Merchant & Gould, Foothills Pediatric Dentistry, the Tennessee Arts Commission, 91.9-FM, WUOT, WVLT Channel 8, Comcast, B97.5 and the News Sentinel.