Those who might think that ballet isn’t accessible, or that it can no longer provide lessons relevant to modern lives, need to clear their calendars later this month.
By producing a 127-year-old ballet, a practice of presenting the classics that the school has followed for the past five years, Rejoice’s pre-professional track students have the chance to engage with a familiar story and demonstrate the products of their education.
“In addition to beautiful dancing and choreography, there are all the makings of a great story, a princess, a villain, love,” says Jo Ellen Werking Weedman, the director of marketing for Rejoice. “They get to transform into characters while also demonstrating technical ability. Also, ballerinas spend hours upon hours in the studio perfecting their technique. For them to get to take the stage and show off their hard work is such a rewarding experience for them.”
The show’s $8 admission price enables Rejoice’s mission of providing ballet lessons to those who couldn’t otherwise receive them. More than 70 percent of Rejoice’s students receive some sort of tuition assistance and about half pay $17 a month total for classes, dancewear, and costumes.
“At Rejoice, our community is as diverse as East Nashville itself and in this time of deep division, our dancers show us that people who are different can work together,” says Werking Weedman. “Every night of the week, students who otherwise could not afford ballet training are at the barre at Edgefield Baptist Church, East Park Community Center, and Hadley Park Community Center being taught by highly-qualified faculty and they’re doing it alongside friends from different racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our entire mission revolves around removing barriers of access to ballet and that includes financial barriers and ideas about race and body type in ballet.”
The leadership for this production is particularly well-suited to carry out that mission. Director Gerald Watson is a company member of the Nashville Ballet who found the form through an arts magnet program. The encouragement he received as a young dancer is something he he carried into his work on Sleeping Beauty.
“He brings to everything he does at Rejoice a talent for teaching, staging, and directing as a professional ballet dancer, but ultimately he brings the exact push and love that our students need,” says Werking Weedman. “He has so much heart and so much passion to see our students be the best dancers and humans they can be.”
The show will doubtlessly reflect a hopeful attitude that will benefit anyone who attends.
“If your spirits are low or if you’re feeling a little hopeless these days, I can promise you that this show will remind you that the future belongs to these young people and that it’s in good hands,” Werking Weedman says. “I think seeing diversity and creativity in action would do most East Siders good.”