Paul Vasterling’s artistic career began at age 10 when he started studying piano, then expanded at age 16 when he started dancing. From this start, Vasterling landed at Nashville Ballet where he became a company dancer, teacher, ballet master and choreographer. He stepped into the role of Artistic Director of Nashville Ballet in 1998, ten years after he began his association with the organization.
A choreographer with a deep affinity for music, Vasterling has created over 40 works, ranging from classical, full-length story ballets to contemporary one-acts. With a special focus on highlighting the wealth of artistry and rich history of Nashville, Vasterling's connection to music and passion for community have led to collaborations with numerous nationally and internationally renowned musicians and institutions including The Bluebird Cafe, Ben Folds, Rhiannon Giddens and more; Nashville Ballet has commissioned 22 original scores for brand-new ballets under his direction. Vasterling is also a gifted storyteller with a penchant for creating vivid narratives such as Peter Pan, Layla and the Majnun, Lizzie Borden, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Nashville's favorite holiday tradition, Nashville's Nutcracker. Vasterling's choreographic credits extend beyond ballet to the recent Nashville Children's Theatre production Dragons Love Tacos.
Beyond his own choreography, Mr. Vasterling has expanded the company’s repertoire to include works by Salvatore Aiello, George Balanchine, James Canfield, Lew Christensen, Jirí Kylián, Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon, among many others. He has also edited and updated the classic productions Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake and has grown the company from a troupe of 12 to 25 professional dancers. With a commitment to cultivating an organization high on artistry and dramatic power, Vasterling has taken Nashville Ballet across the country and beyond—Nashville Ballet's company made its Kennedy Center debut in 2017 and has toured throughout the U.S. including performances in St. Louis, Charleston and a debut at the Chautauqua Institution in August 2018. The company has also toured internationally in South America and Europe, and many of Vasterling's original works have been staged by companies nationally and internationally.
Vasterling graduated Magna Cum Laude from Loyola University. He is a Fulbright Scholar and has been awarded many prestigious fellowships—Vasterling is a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellow, and was selected as one of the Fellows in residence for the 2017-18 academic year at The Center for Ballet and the Arts at New York University.
Lisa Dixon French
Lisa Dixon French recently moved to Nashville, Tennessee following a successful tenure as Executive Director of the Portland (Maine) Symphony Orchestra. While in Portland, Lisa led a highly inclusive strategic planning process that focused the organization on service to the community by enriching lives through music. Lisa also strengthened the orchestra’s financial stability, with increased contributed and earned income, increased endowment funds, and five years of balanced operating budgets that grew from $2.5 million to $3.3 million from 2010-2015.
Originally from Edina, Minnesota, Lisa went to Portland from her role as the Chief Operating Officer of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Lisa is also a graduate of an executive level orchestra leadership program through the League of American Orchestras. This intensive one‐year fellowship program included residencies with the Boston Symphony, North Carolina Symphony, Memphis Symphony, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. Lisa graduated from the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY) in clarinet performance and music education, and received an Arts Leadership Program Certificate. Lisa has also served on the Board of the Maine Association of Nonprofits and the Board of Visitors for the University of Southern Maine.
Associate Artistic Director
Nick Mullikin began his training at the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble in Madison, Wisconsin under the direction of JoJean Retrum. He continued at the Virginia School of the Arts, and Houston Ballet Academy, training with Petrus Bosman, David Keener, Steve Brule, Clara Cravey, and Claudio Munoz. Upon his completion of training with Houston Ballet Academy, he was invited to join Houston Ballet with Artistic Director Ben Stevenson, and subsequently joined Ballet West under the direction of Jonas Kage. During that time he performed works by William Forsythe, George Balanchine, Ben Stevenson, Anthony Tudor, Bruce Marks, David Parsons, Ronald Hynd, Dominic Walsh, Timothy O’Keefe, Glen Tetley, and Trey McIntyre. He has toured nationally and internationally including at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2004 as well as performing as a guest artist for Ballet Arizona, and regional companies throughout the country.
During his time at Ballet West, as an artist, he was an elected union representative for the American Guild of Musical Artists before joining the administrative staff as the Company/Tour Manager & Assistant to the Artistic Director in 2006. In addition, to handling all collective bargaining, and regional touring for the company, he oversaw and managed the company’s return to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. as part of the inaugural Ballet Across America series.
Since that time he has worked as Company Manager for The Washington Ballet and as assistant manager at the Dance Institute in Austin, Texas. Mr. Mullikin has guest taught at summer programs and schools across the country, coached students for competition at the Youth America Grand Prix, taught in after school programs in the Washington D.C. area, and consulted on the creation and setup of Honolulu Classical Ballet in Honolulu, Hawaii. Currently, with his responsibilities at Nashville Ballet, he acts as a consultant to the Kansas City Dance Festival.
In 2012, he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Government, minoring in Communications, while completing the Business Foundations Program at the McCombs School of Business.
Director of Artistic Operations
Sharyn Mahoney joined Nashville Ballet as a company dancer in 1989. Since her retirement from performing, she has continued to work with the organization as School of Nashville Ballet faculty, Artistic Associate, Director of Education and Outreach, Ballet Master and currently, Director of Artistic Operations. During her nine years as Director of Education and Outreach, Ms. Mahoney worked closely with Artistic Director Paul Vasterling to develop and fine tune NB2, Nashville Ballet’s official second company. While in that same position, she initiated the ballet’s educational outreach program which proudly reaches 40,000 children and families each year.
Appointed to Ballet Master in 1998, Ms. Mahoney returned to the studio full time to lend her talents to staging and rehearsing the company’s ballets. She continues to oversee the dancers of NB2’s Performance Division and all Nashville Ballet youth casts. In 2010 Mr. Vasterling charged her with creating a program that concentrated on strengthening and preparing dancers over 18 for a professional career. The Training Division of NB2 was launched in the fall of 2010 with the focus of giving dancers the tools to become healthier and stronger artists.
As Director of Artistic Operations, she works closely with Mr. Vasterling to supervise the company’s artistic endeavors and conducts auditions and guest teaching across the country. She has also staged Mr. Vasterling’s ballets on other companies in the United States and Argentina.
Ms. Mahoney has previously served on the board of Book ‘Em, a children’s literacy organization, and she continues to adjudicate dance grants for the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Denise Eason returned to Nashville after a 20-year residency in Hartford, Conn. where she was with the Hartford Ballet and, after retirement, an adjunct professor of dance at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford. Mrs. Eason was a Nashville Ballet company dancer from 1989-1994, and she returned to Nashville Ballet in 2016 as a company teacher, coach and faculty member. Mrs. Eason moved to Connecticut to join the Hartford Ballet in 1994 under the direction of Kirk Peterson where she danced many principal and soloist roles by George Balanchine, Choo-San Goh and Peterson, to name a few. Among her favorites were Tall Girl Principal in Balanchine’s Rubies, Sanguinic and Choleric in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Third Movement Principal Girl in Choo-San Goh’s In the Glow of the Night, Myrtha in Peterson’s Giselle, and Sugar Plum and Snow Queen in Peterson’s American Nutcracker. Prior to joining the Hartford Ballet, she danced with the Pennsylvania Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Nashville Ballet, Chautauqua Festival Company, Michigan Opera and Septime Webre Dance. Mrs. Eason has been a faculty member of academies affiliated with professional ballet companies, and she brings with her a career of more than 30 years of professional ballet and teaching experience.
Jon Upleger began training seriously in 1997 under the direction of Petrus Bosman and David Keener at the Virginia School of the Arts. Upon graduation, he received the school's prestigious Dean's Award and then joined Nashville Ballet as an Apprentice in 2000.
During his time at Nashville Ballet, Mr. Upleger has performed roles from such varied repertoire as Romeo in Paul Vasterling's Romeo & Juliet, the Sugar Plum Cavalier in Nashville’s Nutcracker, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake and Albrecht in Giselle. Other leading roles include Salvatore Aiello's Satto, Sarah Slipper's Ploughing the Dark, Vasterling's Awaiting Redemption, the Protagonist in Vasterling’s Firebird, Twyla Tharp's Sinatra Suite, Vasterling’s Cinderella, Carmina Burana, Peter Pan, and The Ben Folds Project. In addition to performing with Nashville Ballet’s company, Mr. Upleger has also performed with Configurations Dance Theater in New York, Missouri Ballet Theater and Terpsicorps Theater of Dance in Asheville, N.C. Mr. Upleger was appointed Ballet Master at Nashville Ballet in 2018.
Originally from Virginia, Allison Zamorski began her formal dance training with the Virginia Ballet Theatre. She was an honors graduate from the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts High School Dance Program, majoring in both ballet and modern dance. In 1999, after being awarded a scholarship with School of Nashville ballet, Allison relocated to Nashville to train under the direction of Adam Sage. She danced in NB2, Nashville Ballet’s second company, developing her skills as an apprentice, and was promoted to full company member in 2002 under Artistic Director Paul Vasterling. Allison danced professionally with Nashville Ballet for four years and had multiple ballets set on her including Vasterling’s Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, Giselle, The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake.
After retiring as a dancer in 2006, Allison continued her expression of dance as a faculty member with School of Nashville Ballet, teaching a variety of dance classes to children and adults including ballet, pointe, modern, character, improvisation and repertory. She has worked extensively with the Education and Outreach Department, exposing approximately 30,000 Middle Tennessee residents to the art of dance.
Now, as Ballet Master with Nashville Ballet, Allison assists in the staging and rehearsals of various main company performances. She also oversees all youth casts in Nashville Ballet productions. Also, Allison has the distinct honor of being entrusted to set the works of Paul Vasterling in Nashville, throughout the country and internationally.
Outside of Nashville Ballet, Allison has attended the Regional and National High School Dance Festivals to teach master classes and act as adjudicator multiple times.
Christopher Stuart, originally from Sandy Hook, Conn., began his formal training with Steve Sirico, Angela D'valda Sirico, Franco Devita and Charles Kelley. He graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts in 2002 under the direction of Melissa Hayden, Warren Conover and Duncan Noble. He joined NB2 in 2002 and performed with the main company in many performances. After joining the company in 2003, Stuart was featured in several pieces by renowned choreographers such as Nashville Ballet Artistic Director Paul Vasterling, Brian Enos, Peter Quanz, Gina Patterson, Sarah Slipper, Thaddeus Davis, James Canfield and numerous others.
Stuart was featured as Renfield in Vasterling's Dracula, the Nutcracker Prince and Sugar Plum Cavalier in Vasterling's Nashville’s Nutcracker, Pas de Trios in Swan Lake, the Young Warrior in Salvatore Aiello's Rite of Spring, Melancholy in Four Temperaments, Mac in Lew Christensen’s Filling Station, Puck in Vasterling's A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Prince Desire in The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo in Vasterling's Romeo & Juliet and Macbeth in Vasterling’s Macbeth. He also performed as a guest artist with Quixotic Fusion, Missouri Ballet Theatre, National Choreographic Initiative and Evansville Ballet.
Stuart has always had a niche for choreographing. His vast experiences as a dancer and performer helped him articulate his choreographic voice through improvising and exploring different forms of movement. Embarking upon his journey as a choreographer has allowed him to further express himself in a free and limitless way. Stuart has created pieces for NB2, Nashville Ballet, Quixotic Fusion and Ballet Arkansas. In Nashville Ballet’s 2012 Emergence, he collaborated with ALIAS Chamber Ensemble and Watkins College of Art, Design & Film. In 2012, he choreographed and staged Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s Macbeth. For the past four seasons, Stuart has created pieces for Nashville Ballet’s annual Ballet Ball with music performed by Holly Williams, Kellie Pickler, Clare Bowen and John Oates. For Nashville Ballet’s 2014 Attitude series, he created Under the Lights, a full-length work to the music of Johnny Cash performed by Sugar + The Hi-Lows about which ArtsNash said, “Stuart’s choreography proved to be a seamless blend of classical, modern and popular dance styles.” In 2015, Stuart had the pleasure of choreographing a piece to the music of the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers.
His artistic achievements won him the 2010 Tennessee Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship, one of the highest honors that a Tennessee artist can receive. Stuart was a finalist in Ballet Arkansas' 2014 Visions Choreographic Competition, as well as a finalist in the 17th annual choreography festival of the NYCI Choreographic Fellowship held at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Calif. Most recently, he was awarded a Fellowship Initiative Grant from the New York Choreographic Institute, an affiliate of New York City Ballet, in 2016. Stuart was appointed Resident Choreographer for Nashville Ballet after retiring from dancing professionally in 2018.
With the “energy, creativity and charisma not seen since Leonard Bernstein” and “vibrant,” “mind-blowing,” and “spectacular” conducting, Ming Luke is a versatile conductor that has excited audiences around the world. Highlights include conducting the Bolshoi Orchestra in Moscow, performances of Romeo and Juliet and Cinderella at the Kennedy Center, his English debut at Sadler’s Wells with Birmingham Royal, conducting Dvorak’s Requiem in Dvorak Hall in Prague, recording scores for a Coppola film, and over a hundred performances at the San Francisco War Memorial with San Francisco Ballet. He has been recognized nationally for his work with music education and has designed and conducted education concerts and programs with organizations such as the Berkeley Symphony, Houston Symphony, Sacramento Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera and others. Luke has soloed as a pianist with Pittsburgh Symphony, Sacramento Philharmonic, and San Francisco Ballet, and currently serves as Music Director for the Merced Symphony and Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra; Associate Conductor for the Berkeley Symphony; and Principal Guest Conductor for the San Francisco Ballet. Long time critic Allan Ulrich of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Ming Luke delivered the best live theater performance I’ve ever heard of [Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet]” and in 2016 Luke’s War Requiem was named best choral performance of 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For the 18-19 season, Luke serves as an Assistant/Cover Conductor for the San Francisco Symphony, opens the Berkeley Symphony’s season, works with the ARIA program with San Francisco Opera, and will return to the Kennedy Center and Sadler’s Wells in London with San Francisco Ballet. Guesting at the San Bernardino Symphony, Billings Symphony, and Opera San Jose, Luke will also embark on a Baltics tour with the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra, a well regarded chorus for whom he is only the third Music Director in over fifty years.
Passionate about collaboration with dance companies and deepening the impact of movement to live music, Luke has guested with Boston Ballet, New York City Ballet Orchestra, Nashville Symphony/Ballet, San Diego Ballet and others and conducted l’Orchestre Prométhée in Paris as part of San Francisco Ballet’s residency with Les Etés de la Danse. Noted for is work with Ballet. Famed dancer Natalia Makarova stated, “Ming has a mixture of pure musicality and a sensitivity to needs of the dancers, which are such rare qualities.”
Luke has written, arranged, and performed over 150 education concerts with the Berkeley Symphony and has served on grant panels for the National Endowment of the Arts and the Grants and Cultural Committee of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. An exciting pops conductor, Luke has created and conducted a variety of pops concerts in many venues, from baseball stadiums, to picnics in the park with over 4,000 people in attendance, traditional concert halls and recording for Major League Baseball.
Ming Luke holds a Master of Fine Arts in Conducting from Carnegie Mellon University and a Bachelor of Music in Music Education and Piano Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College of Rider University.
Associate School Director
Kate Crews Linsley
Youth Programs Coordinator
School of Nashville Ballet Accompanists