An important notice for patrons of “Bluejeans and Ballet,” the annual fall production by Maryville’s own Appalachian Ballet Company: A program built on ’70s music does not have to include disco.
That’s an important distinction, according to Kylie Morton Berry, the rehearsal mistress and principal dancer of the company and its parent institution, Van Metre School of Dance, located on West Broadway Avenue in downtown Maryville. Because while disco is the go-to sound for many people who think of that particular decade, it’s not on the program for “Bluejeans, Ballet and Bell Bottoms,” which takes place Sept. 24 at the Clayton Center for the Arts.
“I’m not using, and neither is my mom (Amy Morton Vaughn, artistic director of Appalachian Ballet), any kind of 1970s dance style,” Berry told The Daily Times recently. “When you think 1970s dance, you immediately think disco, but this is very much more of an Americana type of show. Personally, disco is not my favorite genre of music, so I avoided that when we were making our playlist. I don’t personally care for it, but more than that, if you were to go that route, you would have to completely go that route.
“There’s not much you can do dance-wise with disco, so you’d be very limited. The show wouldn’t be very long, because after three pieces, we’d all get the gist and want to move on to something else. We’re trying to keep it a little more New Age and use timeless music, so it’s more of a 2019 form of dancing mixed with this late ’60s, early ’70s genre. It’s about making a cool juxtaposition, almost, with this contemporary movement jiving really well together with these older songs.”
In other words, Berry added with a laugh, attendees should expect a ballet revival of “Soul Train.” But by its original design, the “Bluejeans” show isn’t the tuxedoed and evening gowned event that many patrons might associate with ballet.
Originally conceived as a way to offer contemporary pieces in a relaxed setting, the first year featured ABC dancers in denim, on the lawn at Maryville College. As the show has evolved, it’s become a dinner-and-dance night that features gourmet catering (this year from the Copper Cellar restaurant chain) and a themed production, Berry said.
“I would describe contemporary dance as taking our classical foundation and creating a more abstract look with that same basis,” she said. “While we might still call it the arabesque (position), I’m going to change the arm and the look of it, so that it’s still coming from a ballet foundation, but it has a more abstract and New Age look to it.
“Ballet was created hundreds of years ago, but it’s evolved. At the same time, contemporary dance has evolved from the 1950s to now, so it’s very different as well. It’s all a manipulation of what was created for us, as dancers, many years ago,” Berry said.
These days, Berry has almost as large of a role in the company as her mother does. For this year’s “Bluejeans” production, she’s choreographing nine of 11 pieces, and the whole idea of taking music from the 1970s stemmed from a summer practice during which one of the company’s patrons was enthusiastic about the song selection, she said.
“Every song, they kept saying, ‘I love this song!’ and they would sing along,” she said. “So mom and I kind of came up with this idea to, in the programming, not list what the song is. We’re not revealing what songs we’re using, so that when people come to see the show, it’ll be kind of like it would be if you were at a concert. The audience will hopefully be wondering what’s next, and it should be really fun.”
Three of Berry’s pieces were choreographed for the Van Metre summer workshops for kids. Once the theme was established, Vaughn turned over the reins of the show to her daughter, whose training with the Charlotte Ballet, as well as her interest in more contemporary styles, are well-suited to a modern-meets-throwback production like “Bell Bottoms.”
“Between mom and I, this kind of genre of music is a little more my style, even though she’s great at it, too, so I get to do a little more in ‘Bluejeans’ because of that,” Berry said. “Plus, it’s a little more my style of choreography than ‘Nutcracker.’ Mom is great with contemporary, too, but she knows this is what I enjoy and what I would rather be doing.”
Getting the company’s dancers on board wasn’t a challenge, either: While the bulk of the material is drawn from popular music of the era, the songs have a timeless appeal to them that even teens who make up the bulk of the dance corps can appreciate.
“I remember back this summer, when we were at the beach (the company performed in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, last spring), and we were sitting around a campfire, and some of the dancers had guitars out, and they sang all of this one song that’s really special to me, because it was mine and my dad’s father-daughter dance at my wedding,” Berry said. “They knew all of the words. They’ve surprisingly known a lot of the music, and sometimes I have to stop them from singing along in rehearsal — ‘No singing! We’re just dancing!’”
While specific titles are being kept under wraps, the artists that will contribute to the program are still familiar ones: Queen, Don McLean, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Simon and Garfunkel, and Fleetwood Mac all will have songs on the bill, but the selections will be ones that the majority of those in attendance will recognize, Berry added.
“It’s going to be kind of a great classic rewind for a lot of our audience, and mixed with that, the newer generation is still going to know this music,” she said. “I grew up with my dad playing it in the house, and my father-in-law has been a huge help in picking out some of these songs — but my husband I still listen to it as well. It’s a normal night for us to listen to this genre.
“For our audience to not know what song is coming will be really fun. It will take everybody on a little trip down memory lane, so that whether you’re from that generation of music or not, it will still resonate. Basically, if you turn on the ’70s road trip playlist on Spotify, that’s our show — that windows-down, no-air-conditioning type of music you listen to on a road trip.”