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Telling the story of Ruth through ballet and bluegrass

L to R: Sandy Bottom Boys: Jonah Powell, Crispin Campbell, Angelo Meli
L to R: Jonah Powell, Crispin Campbell, Angelo Meli

This weekend, the Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre will present "Whither Thou Goest? The Story of Ruth" at Milliken Auditorium.

The ballet's creator and choreographer, Tom Morrell joined IPR's Nancy Deneen in Studio A to talk about how music plays a part in this production.

They were joined by members of the Sandy Bottom Boys (not to be confused with the Soggy Bottom Boys) Jonah Powell, Crispin Campbell and Angelo Meli.

The ballet is based on the biblical story of Ruth, a widow who stands by, travels and stays with her also-widowed mother-in-law, Naomi.

However, this production is set in Appalachia during the Great Depression.

"It seemed like a natural fit for the theme of the story — hard times," Morrell said.

As it was an original adaptation of the story, the ballet still needed a score.

Morell had always been a bluegrass fan and plays a few instruments himself.

He found a CD of gospel hymns played in bluegrass style and used it as inspiration for how he was going to create the narrative of the ballet, figuring out what particular songs would work better for a picnic, or what might be appropriate for the miners in the mine, or what might be appropriate for a wedding.

He knew that he wanted live musicians to perform alongside the dancers, and he reached out to a few musicians he already knew to be a part of the project.

And thus, the Sandy Bottom Boys was created.

L to R: Jonah Powell, Crispin Campbell, Angelo Meli, Tom Morell
L to R: Jonah Powell, Crispin Campbell, Angelo Meli, Tom Morell

Music performed in Studio A

"Pass Me Not Old Gentle Savior" performed by Jonah Powell on mandolin and fiddle, Crispin Campbell on cello and Angelo Meli on guitar.

"Whither Thou Goest: The Story of Ruth" is a production of Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre, running Saturday March 9 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday March 10 at 2 p.m in Milliken Auditorium at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City.

Tom Morrell is the Artistic Director of Northwest Michigan Ballet Theatre and he created and choreographed this production.

The Sandy Bottom Boys include two more musicians (Andy Evans on upright bass and Joe Wilson on dobro) in the ballet performances.

Kelley DiPasquale engineered this edition of Studio A.

Emily Duncan Wilson is IPR's Digital Content Manager.

Nancy Deneen is the host of Music at Midday and Music by Request.