A Flood Caused Nashville Ballet to Cancel Its Season Opener. But All Is Not Lost.
On October 7, the dancers, staff and crew of Nashville Ballet completed their final dress rehearsal for artistic director Paul Vasterling’s Peter Pan. They left their home theater, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC), feeling excited about their first show back onstage at an indoor theater since February 2020.
The following morning, Vasterling awoke to news that the theater’s fire-suppressant system malfunctioned, dumping a wall of water onto the stage for about 30 minutes. The full extent of the damage is still being assessed, but it was clear that night’s opening night show, as well as the rest of the run, could not go on. “There was really no way we could do it,” says Vasterling. “The backstage area was chaos.”
The dancers were informed of the decision to cancel the shows in a company Zoom meeting the next morning. “I was just about to start sewing my pointe shoes for the day,” says company dancer Lily Saito, who was to dance Tinkerbell. “It was a big shock.” She adds that her mother had even made a special trip from New York to see her perform.
Colette Tilinski, another company member, adds, “Once they had explained it, the sadness set in, because this was going to be our big return to TPAC.”
During the flood the company’s sprung subfloor, marley and some set pieces were destroyed. Water had rushed down into the dressing room area, ruining costumes and many of the dancers’ personal belongings. “Leotards, warm-ups, sentimental objects for good luck—all of those things were lost in the flood,” says Tilinski.
After the pandemic-related struggles of the past year and a half, breaking the news to the company was “surreal,” says Vasterling. “No one was hurt, thankfully. But still, it was symbolically more than the show—it was our return after everything that happened.”
One silver lining Vasterling is quick to note is that due to the pandemic, Nashville Ballet’s administrative team is now well-versed at putting together an emergency plan. “Everyone was really calm and knew what direction we needed to go and what they needed to do—we can make quick decisions on how to keep everyone safe now,” he says. Their plan included emailing the board, setting up the company Zoom meeting, writing a press release, posting on social media and calling every individual ticket holder to inform them of the news. Meanwhile, the production crew returned to TPAC to salvage as much as possible, which meant digging around in dirty water for hours.
Company member Jaison McClendon was hired during the pandemic and was supposed to dance the role of Peter Pan. “I’ve never gotten to perform at TPAC,” he says. “It was hard for me to see all of my co-workers bummed about it, because I wanted to share that experience with them onstage.”
Tilinski says that she was disappointed she wouldn’t get to perform Tiger Lily, her first soloist role. “This was my big breakthrough, and, in many ways, I lost that by not getting to perform for an audience.” Even so, the rehearsal process helped her gain confidence as a dancer. “Hopefully, it’s a great preparation for more challenging roles.”
While Nashville Ballet is unable to reschedule the performances, not all is lost. Thankfully, the company filmed dress rehearsal with the intention of offering a digital option to audience members who still felt uncomfortable coming to the theater. Viewers can now purchase tickets to stream Peter Pan on October 23 at 7 pm CST and October 24 at 2 pm CST.
Meanwhile, the dancers have returned to rehearsals for Vasterling’s Firebird and a new work by company dancer Mollie Sansone, both of which will appear later in the season. And while TPAC and Nashville Ballet continue to assess the damage, Nashville Ballet still plans on performing Nashville’s Nutcracker there in December. “We’re not out for the count yet!” says McClendon. “We have a really strong group of human beings. We’ve all been through a lot, but we’re able to keep moving.”