NASHVILLE, TN — Nashville Ballet announced last week that Artistic Director Paul Vasterling will retire at the end of the 2022–2023 season, concluding 33 years with the organization. As he is the longest-serving artistic director in Nashville Ballet history, the board of directors has voted to name him artistic director emeritus upon his retirement in recognition of his contributions. Current Associate Artistic Director Nick Mullikin has been named CEO and associate artistic director beginning Aug. 26, and will succeed Vasterling as artistic director and CEO in June 2023.
For more than 30 years, Vasterling has been foundational to Nashville Ballet and is approaching his 25th year at the helm as the company’s artistic director. Under Vasterling’s leadership, Nashville Ballet has transformed from a troupe of 12 dancers to become the largest professional ballet company in Tennessee, with 33 professional company dancers, a second company and renowned ballet school attracting dancers from all over the United States. Vasterling joined Nashville Ballet as a company dancer in 1989 and was appointed Nashville Ballet artistic director in 1998. During his tenure, he has created over 40 original ballets, including “Firebird,” “Seasons,” “Lucy Negro Redux,” “Carmina Burana,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Peter Pan,” “Lizzie Borden,” “Dracula,” “Appalachian Spring,” and “Nashville’s Nutcracker,” which has been enjoyed by over half a million Middle Tennesseans.
Passionate about supporting the works of up-and-coming choreographers, he created the Emergence series in 2004 in order to give numerous choreographers the space to create new works and learn to work alongside musicians as they created an original score. A talented musical arranger in his own right, Vasterling led Nashville Ballet to commission over 22 original scores from local singer-songwriters, nationally renowned musicians such as Louis York and The Shindellas, and GRAMMY Award-winning artists including Ben Folds and Rhiannon Giddens. He has highlighted the artistry and history of Nashville by partnering with institutions such as Nashville Children’s Theatre, The Bluebird Café and the Nashville Symphony. Under his direction, the company has toured in South America, in Europe and throughout the United States, debuting at the Kennedy Center in 2017. Beyond his own choreography, Vasterling has expanded the company’s repertoire to include works by George Balanchine, Donald Byrd, Jiří Kylián, Jennifer Archibald, Val Caniparoli and Christopher Wheeldon, among many others.
Vasterling served as CEO from 2010–2018, and under his purview, Nashville Ballet’s operating budget increased by 800% and the administrative team has more than doubled in size. Vasterling oversaw two significant expansions of Nashville Ballet’s studios and administrative offices. First was the purchase of the Martin Center in 2000, followed by the launch of the ELEVATE Capital Campaign in 2014, which raised $5.2 million to further expand facilities to house seven world-class studios, additional administrative space, an on-site production warehouse and a performance venue.
Vasterling is a Fulbright scholar and is the recipient of many awards, including fellowships from New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to support choreography creation. His original works have been staged by companies all over the world, including Oregon Ballet Theatre, Milwaukee Ballet, Ballet Austin, Sarasota Ballet, Oklahoma City Ballet, Nevada Ballet Theater, Ballet Manila, Ballet Argentino de Le Plata, Ballet del Sur and Ballet Nacional de Sodre.
Under Vasterling’s leadership, Nashville Ballet has worked to prioritize accessibility and inclusivity by striving to remove social barriers to ballet, including the expansion of their free Community Engagement programming, undertaking national audition searches to bring BIPOC to train in Nashville, and instituting a flesh-tone tights and shoes policy for Nashville Ballet dancers and students. Vasterling also spearheaded the company’s free digital programming, culminating with the broadcast debut of a made-for-television performance of his original ballet, “Nashville’s Nutcracker,” which earned him his first Emmy Award. Also filmed for television, his New York Times-acclaimed ballet “Black Lucy and the Bard” will make its nationwide premiere on PBS’ multi-award-winning Great Performances series this fall.
“We are beyond thankful for all Paul has accomplished with his time with Nashville Ballet,” said Susan Short Jones, Nashville Ballet board chair. “In many ways, he built the Nashville Ballet we have today, a world-class organization that is pushing boundaries, both in our city and in the dance world. Paul’s decision to retire is bittersweet because of what he’s meant to our organization, to the Nashville community, and to thousands of dancers and supporters along the way.”
“I could not be leaving the organization in better hands,” Vasterling said. “I have dedicated more than three decades of my life to Nashville Ballet, and though retirement was a difficult decision to make, this transition is a natural next step and will allow for the fulfillment of Nashville Ballet’s collective vision. I have the utmost respect for Nick as a leader and an artist, and I am looking forward to supporting him and the organization as artistic director emeritus.”