Nashville Ballet’s upcoming world premiere is the debut of Lucy Negro Redux, a work created exclusively for an African American female lead that explores William Shakespeare’s mysterious love life. The production features a score by Grammy Award-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens and spoken word performed live by Nashville poet Caroline Randall Williams. On February 8-10, Artistic Director Paul Vasterling will present this phenomenal, galvanizing new work at TPAC’s Polk Theater.
Exploring themes of otherness, equality and self-worth, the boundary-pushing ballet, Lucy Negro Redux, is a time-bending tale which examines William Shakespeare’s love life and the subjects of his famed sonnets – the “Dark Lady” and “Fair Youth” – informed by the scholarly theory that these individuals were a black woman and a young, male lover, respectively. Featuring a narrator that sees herself in Lucy Negro, Vasterling’s new work depicts one woman’s journey of love and self-acceptance with the help of the Bard’s poems.
“This is such a special piece to have the privilege of bringing to life. It’s really a story for anyone who has ever felt bothered, who’s felt different, excluded or oppressed because of who they are,” said Vasterling. “I hope it will be galvanizing in a way that calls us to be kinder and more loving to those who may be different from us, as well as to ourselves.”
Inspired by Caroline Randall Williams’s book of the same name, Vasterling brings the Nashville-based author and poet to the stage to perform spoken word excerpts from the book during the ballet. The list of impressive women of color lending their voices to this work doesn’t stop there – Lucy Negro Redux features a score commissioned by Grammy Award-winning artist and MacArthur Fellow Rhiannon Giddens who will also appear onstage along with co-composer Francesco Turrisi, an Italian musician and music scholar bringing his talents and expertise on Elizabethan music to the project.
“The timing is right for this work,” Vasterling said. “Not only because of the place we’re at culturally in our society, but because Kayla is at a place in her career where she is so well-prepared to take on this role – she has the dance experience, and the life experience, needed to inform this piece and the strength to carry the weight of such a relevant story on her shoulders with professionalism and grace.”
Nashville Ballet company artist Kayla Rowser will take on the title role of Lucy Negro. A rarity of its discipline, Vasterling created Lucy Negro Redux as a ballet exclusively for a black, female lead.
“I am so lucky to be able to do what I love for a living,” Rowser said. “I have danced so many incredible roles – roles that dancers work towards for a lifetime – but now for the first time in my entire career, in Lucy Negro Redux, I’m finally able to take the stage as myself,” Rowser said.
Tickets for the world premiere of Lucy Negro Redux are available now. Purchase tickets in person at the TPAC box office in downtown Nashville, by phone at (615) 782-4040 or at www.nashvilleballet.com.