New Ballet Ensemble performed a commissioned piece with the National
Symphony Orchestra this week and, although reviews for the New Moves: Symphony + Dance event were mixed, things went well for the Memphis-based company.
The most exciting thing about the New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBE) is that the company consistently lives up to its name. If the moves coming out of NBE aren't all hot off the grill the combinations are certainly fresh, pulling together Memphis street, ballet, and flamenco in a way that lets all three traditions stand out even as they disappear into the gumbo. It only makes sense that the company that helped to launch the career of super jooker Charles "Lil Buck" Riley would be chosen as one of three dance companies nationwide to perform in the Kennedy Center's NEW MOVES: symphony + dance Concert with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
Over the course of a two-week festival conductor Thomas Wilkins will introduce audiences to works by American artists coupled with world premier dance commissions.
New Ballet Ensemble rehearses "SpringLoaded"
Smythe describes Ellington as "The great American composer," and a perfect match for NBE's local meets international style.
National interest in New Ballet Ensemble stems, in part, from Lil Buck's incredible success. He has toured with Madonna and Yo Yo Ma. He's shot commercials for the Gap, danced with the Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson tribute One, and was named in Dance Magazine as being one of 25 dancers to watch. More recently the 2014 Vail International Dance Festival named Lil Buck Artist-in-Residence.
Buck grew grew up dancing and making Jookin videos with family and friends in Orange Mound before enrolling in NBE's scholarship and professional development program. He is scheduled to appear on CBS This Morning with Wynton Marsalis Thursday, May 8.
Even more good news arrived for NBE this week in the form of a letter from the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities. NBE was chosen from among 360 nominees as a finalist for a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, the Nation's highest honor for out-of-school arts programs that foster creativity in young people.
Kennedy Center Performances are Saturday, May 10th and Tuesday, May 13th. Tickets are available through the Kennedy Center website.
The second installment of the company's ongoing "River Project" begins with an inspirational number, then moves into a more mystical landscape, and closes with a soulful history lesson. The tone is light throughout, and the trio of original danceworks emphasizes the company's physical strength and classical training.
"The Hurdle Runner," choreographed by Petr Zahradnicek, begins with the northern migration of African Americans. It spotlights George Coleman Poage who, like Mark Twain, was born in Hannibal, Missouri, but who moved with his parents to La Crosse, Wisconsin. In 1904, Poage became the first African American to win an Olympic medal. His event, the 200-meter hurdles, makes an easy and appropriate metaphor.
Employing huge umbrellas, inventive lighting, and a stage littered with flower petals, choreographer Julia Adam celebrates the mushrooms growing along the Mississippi. "The Devil's Fruit," doesn't conjure up images from Alice in Wonderland and nobody will be subjected to the music of Jefferson Airplane; nevertheless, it is a sweet and relentlessly sincere walk on the psychedelic side. It is also a blithe display of raw strength and easy elegance.
"River Project 2" closes with Corps de Fortitude, inspired by the sights and sounds of St. Louis. It's a joyful piece, but when Lee Taylor takes the stage to sing a soulful rendition of that city's namesake blues, the dancers nearly disappear. And taking not a thing away from Taylor's performance or that of the dancers, that may still be an actual complaint.
"River Project 2" is at Playhouse on the Square through October 27th. Balletmemphis.org
There is a famous quotation variously credited to Martin Mull, Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Miles Davis, George Carlin, and a slew of other creative wits, but predating the lot of them: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture." The line is generally invoked to discredit music critics, but it's really dancers who take the hardest hit. What's wrong with dancing about architecture? Why not respond sonically, poetically, or physically to the landscape, manmade or natural? It's a question a group of local dancers are asking as they prepare to perform "Trees: Dances and Odes for Tall Leafy Friends."
"Trees," is a series of short environmental works inspired by specific trees in Greenbelt Park on the banks of the Mississippi River. Contributing artists including Robin Salant, Anne J. Froning, Bethany Bak, Marianne Bell, Wayne M. Smith, and Sarah Ledbetter will use installation, improvisation, tap dance, storytelling, and a variety of mixed media to consider the life, shape, motion and sounds of trees.
Director Sarah Ledbetter has described “Trees” as “an irreverent love letter," although it was difficult to find much irreverence in a recent "open studio" work through of the piece. Even the most humorous work, which finds a group of tap dancing beatniks reciting sincere poetry, is infused with good old fashioned capital-R Romanticism.
"Trees" is a free event taking place Saturday, October 5 and Sunday, October 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Mississippi Greenbelt Park on Mud Island.Attendees should park at the lot approximately 1 mile north of the Willis Ave (Harbor Town) bridge, where they will receive a program and beverages.
Louisa Koeppel, Emily Hefley, and Rebecca Cochran have been collaborating on an homage to E&H's celebrated Soul Burger.
In the video you'll see dancers who are still working out the kinks, and my fingers play a brief cameo role (still learning how to shoot with the iPad) but I thought dance enthusiasts, Memphis boosters, and burger lovers, as well as friends and fans of the bar's recently deceased owner Russell George might like to share in this sweet tribute to a Memphis classic.
Last night's Broad Ave. Night Market was packed with things to do and vendors to visit. One of the highlights was getting to see a casual performance by the dancers of Ballet Memphis set to the tune of Green Onions.
While Ballet Memphis was taking it to the street to promote the company's world-premiere of River Project 2, opening on October 19, master Gangsta Walker and promoter Jaquency Ford was preparing for an Old School vs. New School dance battle that's being waged in the Madison Dance Studio tonight (Friday, September 27) at 7 p.m.