Inspired by Tennessee’s vital role in the ratification of the 19th Amendment, Nashville Ballet will debut Gina Patterson’s 72 Steps at Harpeth Hall School’s Frances Bond Davis Theatre on Saturday, November 10 at 2 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public.
Commissioned by the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Nashville and their Perfect 36 Supporters, 72 Steps explores themes of basic human rights, civic responsibility and the ongoing battle for a more equitable society through the lens of the suffrage movement.
“We always knew the League of Women Voters should be involved in telling the story of the passage of the 19th Amendment. After all, it was our own Carrie Chapman Catt who created the League in February of 1920 before traveling to Nashville in July to secure the vote,” LWV of Nashville project co-chairs Cindee Gold and Debby Gould explained. “After careful consideration, we chose ballet. For many of us, as young girls, ballet was one of the few acceptable outlets we had to express our athleticism and creativity. Dancers are beautiful, but it is their strength that is crucial to their success, as so it is with all women.”
“Given that Tennessee was the 36th and final vote needed for the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the League of Women Voters [of Nashville] felt it was important to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary in a special way,” LWV of Nashville project co-chairs Cindee Gold and Debby Gould explained. “Our choice to commission a ballet was very intentional. Historically, our society has discouraged girls from participating in sports; girls were meant to be delicate, but in dance we could be strong – we could flex our muscles and assert ourselves with a confidence not allowed outside the studio.”
Complementary to state curriculum for middle school history classes, Nashville Ballet’s second company, NB2, will transport classrooms and audiences to the early 1900s as the fight for women’s rights is heating up. Inspired by history, Patterson’s work is a contemporary retelling of the slow flame of the suffrage movement as friends and families grapple with the terms of one of the most divisive issues of the time building to a fiery denouement in the days surrounding the Tennessee legislature’s history making vote and the famed letter said to have persuaded young House Representative Harry Burn to support the proposed amendment.
Depicting a fight that began with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 and spanned over 72 years, Patterson’s work draws parallels from the past to present in an effort to transcend time. During the creative process, Patterson called NB2 artists to reflect on the civic issues that concern them in modern society. They followed this by writing letters similar to that which Rep. Burns’s mother wrote convincing him to cast that momentous vote; Patterson used these letters and conversations to shape the ballet’s narrative.
“72 Steps endeavors to engage young people on the topic of inequality and illuminate the long and continuing march towards parity. It challenges audiences to contemplate their own beliefs around women’s voting rights and how this extends to broader conversations of equality, whether relating to gender or other discriminations in the name of power and control,” Patterson said. “I hope this ballet will inspire viewers to think about their rights when the time comes to go to the polls, and how they might use their own voices to make a difference in everyday life.”
A feminine tour de force, 72 Steps celebrates Nashville’s female creatives. Local composer Jordan Hamlin wrote the galvanizing score that drives Patterson’s narrative and designer Jocelyn Melechinsky created the work’s striking costumes merging historical influence with allusions to the future.
After its premiere, 72 Steps will enter a limited pilot engagement in Metro Nashville Public Schools as part of Nashville Ballet’s Community Engagement repertoire. This special premiere is free and open to the public; limited seating is available. To learn more about 72 Steps, or reserve seating, visit nashvilleballet.com/72-steps.