Behind the Scenes: Paul Vasterling

For the past 20 years, Paul Vasterling has served as the artistic director for Nashville Ballet. He's choreographed and directed a slew of productions, and under his leadership, the Ballet has commissioned 22 original scores for new works. A decade before Paul took on the role of artistic director, he started with the organization as a company dancer, ballet master, teacher and choreographer.

Paul started playing piano at age 10 and dancing at 16. Before pursuing dancing professionally, he wanted to be a music therapist. For Paul, music and dance are deeply intertwined, as evidenced by the way his choreography so closely bends to the inflection of each note.

We recently caught up with Paul for a little insight into his time at Nashville Ballet, what makes him tick and a hint at what to expect from his upcoming 20th Anniversary Gala Performance on Dec. 13.

Name: Paul Vasterling

Profession/Title: Artistic director and CEO

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

Years in Nashville: Almost 30

Zip code: 37206

Number of productions you've choreographed for Nashville Ballet: Over 40 — and directed many more!

What has been your favorite part of being the artistic director of Nashville Ballet? When I started out, it was that I had the privilege of choreographing ballets, but as I’ve grown, it’s become watching the artists and staff grow into more fully realized versions of themselves. The hardest? Understanding how to communicate with all kinds of people.

What was your first job? I worked in a fireplace shop, and I still have a surprisingly extensive knowledge of fireplaces.

What made you want to be a dancer? Ballet is simultaneously physically, intellectually and emotionally challenging, and to top it off, it’s done to music!

Who would be your dream performer? I really feel like I’m working with such incredible talent every day; our company members are my dream performers.

What would be your dream production? The answer to that changes constantly — It’s always whatever I’m working on next.

What has been your most surreal moment working for Nashville Ballet? When the audience erupted in applause for the company after our Kennedy Center debut.

What are you most excited for with your 20th anniversary performance? I’m excited to see the company do new works that we’ve never done like Tarantella by George Balanchine and the world premiere of a piece by Carlos Pons Guerra. I’m also looking forward to the grande défilé we’re doing, which will showcase the entire scope of Nashville Ballet, from those just joining our academy to the company.

What the biggest way Nashville Ballet has changed over the past two decades? There’s a noticeable increase in long-term sustainability and a tremendous sense of growth artistically in terms of the creativity and talent that this organization houses.

What’s your favorite place to go for a date night? The Schermerhorn to hear the Nashville Symphony

What was the first production you were in? The Nutcracker — since I was 16, I’ve done The Nutcracker in some capacity every year.

What was the first production you choreographed or directed? My first full production was Robin Hood, here at Nashville Ballet, but the first piece I choreographed was a work titled Soirée while I was in college.

What was your favorite show you’ve choreographed? That’s always the next one, too! They’re like children — I can’t tell you I have a favorite. I’m always most excited about whatever I’m currently creating, so right now that would be Lucy Negro Redux, but that will change as I continue to work.

What was your favorite set design from a past show?Carmina Burana — all the elements were designed by Eric Harris. Favorite costumes? Holly Hines’ costumes designed for Layla and the Majnun

What’s your favorite new restaurant in town? Ellington’s

What’s your favorite place to brunch? My house! There’s nothing like being home on Sunday with The New York Times and a meal I cooked myself.

Who is your favorite musician you’ve collaborated with? Ben Folds

What do you hope never changes about Nashville? There’s a wonderful openness to creativity here. People want others to succeed and are interested in others' projects. In Nashville, people really see you as a person.