Directed by Jason Shelton and featuring the groundbreaking Portara Ensemble, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, poet Ciona Rouse, and dozens of Nashville-based artists, musicians, and dancers
Because so many potential audience members were turned away from last year’s sold-out premiere of The Longest Night, OZ Arts Nashville is bringing back this unique, multidisciplinary celebration of the winter solstice for three performances this year. The Longest Night will take place on the actual longest nights of the year—December 20 and 21—bringing together a variety of Nashville-area artists for this celebration. The Longest Night is part of OZ Arts’ ambitious series of productions by local artists.
Jason Shelton, who has helped guide Portara Ensemble from the start—first as assistant director and then artistic director—has long been recognized for his unique collaborative endeavors. The Longest Night is the latest in an evolving journey.
This celebration of the winter solstice brings together more than 40 Nashville-based artists, musicians, and dancers. The show is a result of a unique cross-disciplinary collaboration between choral powerhouse Portara Ensemble (directed by Shelton), famed saxophonist Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones), acclaimed poet Ciona Rouse (Vantablack), and Lisa Spradley’s Epiphany Dance Partners, and features world-class guest performers including multiple Grammy award-winning bassist Victor Wooten (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones), percussionist Roy “Futureman” Wooten (Béla Fleck and the Flecktones), pianist Pat Coil, vocalist Marcela Pinilla, and storyteller Rabbi Rami Shapiro.
“It has been a long-time dream of mine to create an artistic experience that showcases the incredibly diverse talents of this city—not just music, but poetry and dance and so much more,” says Portara Ensemble Artistic Director Jason Shelton. “Working with this team of collaborators has been a dream come true, and having so many incredible guests lined up to celebrate with us just makes it all the richer. We’re so grateful to OZ Arts for taking the risk on this show last year, and for inviting us back—bigger and better, and for three shows!”
The voices of Portara Ensemble weave throughout the show, which includes a mix of original music written for The Longest Night by Shelton and Coffin alongside seasonal favorites. Rouse serves as narrative guide while Epiphany’s dancers grace an enchanting tale that introduces us to a host of local artists who explore the wisdom of the darkness and celebrate the return of the light.
The Longest Night will be performed at OZ Arts Nashville on Dec. 20 at 8pm, and Dec. 21 at 2PM and 8PM. This multi-community holiday celebration is appropriate for all ages. Tickets are $25 at ozartsnashville.org.
About the Artists:
Jason Shelton, formerly a Franciscan brother, received a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 2003, where he focused on music as a resource for building community across differences. In addition to his work with Portara, he served as Associate Minister for Music at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville from 1998-2017. Jason is an award-winning composer and arranger, and he recently conducted Step By Step: the Ruby Bridges Suite at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Weekdays you’ll find him working with local non-profit Hands On Nashville to meet community needs through volunteerism.
Ciona Rouse, who took part in the 2017 Nashville International Women’s Day event at OZ Arts, released Vantablack, a collection of poems, with Third Man Books and was a featured poet in the Frist presentation of Nick Cave: FEAT. Nashville presented at Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2018.
Portara Ensemble has quickly become a creative force in the music scene of Middle Tennessee. Their innovative programing and artist collaborations have crossed the boundaries of visual and performing arts, and brought exciting new music to their audiences. Led by Artistic Director Jason Shelton, Portara Ensemble’s thought-provoking thematic choral programs explore a wide variety of music from around the globe sung by professional, semi-professional, and amateur volunteer singers.
Epiphany Dance Partners has been creating and performing dance in Nashville since 1994. After years of experience as a dancer and emerging choreographer with the company, Lisa Spradley took over as Artistic Director in 2014. She won the Periscope People’s Choice Award for her vision as a dance artist and her mission for the company. Epiphany searches for opportunities to partner with other creative minds to increase the appreciation for dance as artistic expression, a unique form of communication, and a way to strengthen community. By seeking the extraordinary in expressive movement, they hope to inspire and educate performers and audiences alike.
About OZ Arts Nashville:
Since opening in 2014, OZ Arts Nashville, a 501(c)(3) contemporary arts center, has changed the cultural landscape of the city. Housed in the former C.A.O. cigar warehouse owned by Nashville’s Ozgener family, OZ Arts, under the artistic leadership of Mark Murphy, brings world-class performances and art installations to the city, and gives ambitious local artists opportunities to work on a grand scale. The flexible 10,000 square-foot, column-free venue, nestled amidst five acres of artfully landscaped grounds, is continually reconfigured to serve artists’ imaginations, and to challenge and inspire a diverse range of curious audiences.
OZ Arts regularly engages the community for participation with visiting artists and artworks – either directly, through school visits, workshops, master classes, school performances and/or curated programs led by local teaching artists. In addition, OZ Arts founded a program called OZ School Days, a daylong, multi-arts program presented in partnership with Centennial Performing Arts Studios that aims to engage students aged 5 – 15 years old on days when Metro Nashville Public Schools are out of session (ex: Columbus Day, Presidents Day).
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