Riley Nicholson came to his new job as executive director of the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas with his own hopes, experiences and expectations. So far, after half a year working under the unique conditions of a worldwide pandemic, he's found community support beyond his imagination; musicians willing to try anything once; and now, a chance for new collaborations he thought must already be old hat.
This time, that collaboration is taking place across the state, with Ballet Arkansas. It's called "Sleighride Together" and will feature the full SoNA orchestra performing under the baton of music director Paul Haas, accompanying a series of contemporary dances selected by Ballet Arkansas artistic director Michael Fothergill for the occasion.
"My previous work experience involved arts administration for ballet and dance nonprofits, so it's a world I am familiar with and interested in," Nicholson says. "There are obvious but profound connections between music and dance -- it's always fun to collaborate and see an artistic vision beyond the medium one is entrenched in. From our very first introduction, I could tell that Michael felt similarly; conversations and plans naturally developed, and here we are at the beginning of a new organizational partnership!"
Nicholson admits he didn't expect to be breaking ground.
"This is a very conscious choice to bridge Northwest and Central Arkansas," the Hot Springs native says. "Upon moving back to Arkansas, I have to say it's one of the things I was a bit surprised about -- that there wasn't quite as much cultural conversation between the two regions as I thought there would be.
"I always love it when art can break down barriers and bridge distances, and I hope in some small way this collaboration does just that," he adds.
The choreography for "Sleighride Together" was created specifically for this collaboration, says Catherine Fothergill, Ballet Arkansas' associate artistic director, and will be performed at the UA-PTC CHARTS Theater in North Little Rock. Michael Fothergill choreographed "Sleigh Ride" and commissioned Madison Hicks to create "Hallelujah," a new work.
"Working with the Ballet Arkansas dancers on 'Hallelujah' has been an honor and a dream," Hicks says. "My movement style is very unique, and I've been blown away by the way they work and their ability to capture truly anything I asked of them. I hope this piece brings joy to the audience. It is meant to be a celebration of dance, hope and love -- something we all need more of right now!"
"While Ballet Arkansas will always love performing for packed houses, we are grateful for the opportunity to perform and produce artistic content that is accessible to a broad audience through the reach of technology at a time when we are unable to gather in our traditional formats, and to collaborate with new partners that may before have been more logistically challenging to facilitate in ordinary times," Catherine Fothergill says. "It is rewarding to share 'Sleighride Together' with people from across the state and reach a new audience who may not have been able to join us in the theater in the past."
"As for the future of SoNA, great things happen when diverse creatives come together," Nicholson adds, "so we definitely will continue to find organizational partners to expand the breadth and depth of our artistic reach."
WHEN — Available Dec. 21
WHERE — Symphony of Northwest Arkansas via SoNA’s Facebook page, YouTube channel and website
COST — Free
INFO — sonamusic.org