FLAT ROCK — The music stops and Chase Brock leaps to his feet again, to coach, instruct and demonstrate.
"When you twirl like that it needs to be grander and larger," he tells one of the male dancers. He demonstrates. As with all of his movements the physical portrayal seems natural. He moves as if he danced before he walked, and that's not so far from the truth. He started dancing at age 6, not far from where he was working on Friday, in Flat Rock Playhouse's YouTheatre. To say that dance is his natural state of being is to understate the magnitude of his commitment and the height of acclaim he has earned.
Chase left West Henderson High School halfway through his sophomore year and convinced his parents to homeschool him because he was spending more than 40 hours a week in theater training.
"I was working from 3 o'clock to 10 o'clock every night, and that really was just for ballet and dance," he said. "In order to do stuff here I had to have private lessons in acting and voice and tap and all that during the day."
Fifteen years later, he has returned from his Broadway life as a dancer, choreographer and director to direct "The Nutcracker" at Flat Rock Playhouse, which carries a subtitle: "In a small mountain town, something magical is about to happen."
It's not lost on Chase Brock that in the "small mountain town" of the title, there's bad trouble. His beloved Flat Rock Playhouse is in need of magic in a big way. The theater could close, its administrators say, if it does not raise $250,000 by the end of the year.
A big donation
Supporters have rallied to rescue the theater in a fast-growing social media campaign. A Facebook page launched by production manager Bill Munoz has attracted 2,689 members. On Saturday, Brock announced in a posting on the site a big contribution to save the theater that gave him his start.
"We are currently hard at work in the studio on 'The Nutcracker'," he said, "and I have just let (Playhouse director) Vincent (Marini) know that I have decided not to accept a fee for my work writing, directing and choreographing the production. It will be my gift. We're making something really special - and our cast and design team are truly world class — so please bring your family and come check out our show!"
Set in Hendersonville
In the rehearsal hall at the YouTheatre, built long after Brock had begun his career on Broadway, the director is all business. Although he's no drill sergeant, he is direct in his instructions to the dancers, who focus on his words or on a demonstration of his vision for the scene. The week after Thanksgiving, the Playhouse will debut a production it has never staged before: a work of dance.
"When I was asked to do it, my first question, which I ask on any production, was, why? And I thought the reason why is to come down and do a 'Nutcracker' that only Flat Rock Playhouse could do," he said during a rehearsal break. "The idea was like, I don't want to come down and try to do something — not that Flat Rock would have the resources anyway — with a 95-piece orchestra and a professional ballet company. The reason to do that 'Nutcracker' is to do it somewhere else some day.
"This one I thought, what can we do that really exploits the talent and just the setting of this place? So I immediately latched on to the idea of making a totally local 'Nutcracker.' I loved the idea that it would be set in the town it was being performed in.
"I felt that was really exciting, and I felt like, having come from here, I've never made a piece that reflected my upbringing, and this locale. I moved to New York when I was 16. I've worked all over the world and a lot in New York and I've been very focused on that, so the idea to come back and sort of write a little love letter to my gorgeous hometown was something I felt really passionate about."
Folks will see a lot they recognize in Brock's "Nutcracker."
"Nothing on this set says Shelley's Jewelers or McFarland's Bakery," he said. "I didn't want it to be literally a documentary. But my hope is that you'll look on the stage and see Hendersonville everywhere."
Set designer Dennis Maulden created a subtle streetscape backdrop that will be familiar — the Historic Courthouse, City Hall, the railroad depot, First Methodist Church.
It's quite a concept: Little Appalachian Hooterville as the setting for the first ballet ever staged at the Flat Rock Playhouse.
What does Brock hope the audience gains from coming to the show?
"I would be thrilled if people first and foremost just had a great night in the theater, a night in the theater that would take them out of their ordinary lives and just let them laugh and be delighted and be surprised and just be entertained and see things that are familiar and see things that are unfamiliar," he said. "I would love it if this was really an avenue of entertainment, rather than bringing some kind of arty piece of experimentation. That doesn't interest me at all for this. I really just want this to be a fun delightful holiday romp."
"I think it's an enormously exciting thing that they have agreed to produce this. What I would be delighted by on a personal level is if the audience came away and certain people said, 'Wow, I never would have thought I would have liked going to a dance piece, I never would have enjoyed going to the ballet, I never would have thought that it could be funny, that it could be colorful, that it could be interesting.' So I think there's a great deal of humor and heart to it and I hope it surprises people."
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Tasting my way to the top