It’s easy to imagine why both Sugar + the Hi-Lows and the Nashville Ballet would share an affinity for the work of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. To interpret and incorporate that music into a live performance, however, would be quite a feat. But last night, the Valentine’s Day crowd witnessed just that with Christopher Stuart’s “Under the Lights” installment of the Ballet’s Attitude series.
The 45-minute original ballet invoked and embodied the spirit of the man and his music in a whole new light. Because — like anyone other than Johnny — the musical pairing of Amy Stroup and Trent Dabbs lacked the singular heft that was Cash, they mostly came at the songs from different angles. And the tunes that received the most reworking shone brightest, “Ring of Fire” topping the list with an insouciant swagger incarnated by Sadie Bo Harris and Jon Upleger.
Vignettes for both “Jackson” and “Folsom Prison Blues” offered up playful, engaging moments which managed to effortlessly meld Dirty Dancing-era pop style with classic ballet pointe. The true show-stopper, though, was “Hurt” which showcased Mollie Sansone supported by the full cast playing off of Stroup’s rendering of the darkly potent, deeply poignant composition, together building a controlled frenzy on their way to the ultimately liberating coda.
The act ended as it began — with the silhouette of a larger-than-life, guitar-wielding form surrounded by those who want merely a moment in the shadow of the Man in Black.

Attitude runs through February 16 at the Polk Theatre in Nashville. Photo credit: Karyn Kipley Photography