Thursday, August 31, 2017

Ballet Memphis, Urban League, Pillars of Excellence and more!

Posted By on Thu, Aug 31, 2017 at 3:16 PM

click to enlarge Grand opening of new Ballet Memphis headquarters. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Grand opening of new Ballet Memphis headquarters.

Crystal Brothers. who danced in the "Sa Voix" number, was the first dancer to set foot on the new stage at the mini-performance Aug. 26 to celebrate the grand opening of Ballet Memphis’s new headquarters at 2144 Madison.

That was just a coincidence, not symbolic, said Ballet Memphis CEO/founding artistic director Dorothy Gunther Pugh. “Crystal has been here over 20 years now,” she said. “So many of those dancers had their first jobs with us and they’ve loved it so much they’ve grown with us. They’ve reached a stature of excellence that’s understood by people across the country who really know what professional ballet is.”

Associate director Seven McMahon is another veteran. McMahon, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, used “y’all” in his opening remarks to the audience. “I’ve been in Memphis 14 years,” he said. “I think I can say that.”

Ballet Memphis’s new headquarters officially opened Aug. 24. “Everything from start to finish starting with the ribbon cutting on Thursday afternoon was magical,” Pugh said. “And the magic never stopped. All day Saturday that place was full with excited and over-awed people.”

Guests were “mostly kind of mesmerized by how amazing the place is.”

And, she said, “The building did what it was meant to do: be open to sharing joyful experiences with people in the community.”

The 38,000 square foot, $21-million Ballet Memphis headquarters houses five studios, including a large glass-walled studio with limited, retractable seating, and a costume shop, which is visible from the street.

“This has been a dream for many years and now it’s a reality,” McMahon told the audience.

Mama Gaia restaurant also is housed in the new headquarters. The restaurant, which also has a location in the Crosstown Concourse, held the grand opening for the new location Aug. 24 at Ballet Memphis.

Following the ballet performance, dancers joined guests to kick up their heels in the Flying Hall in the Ballet Memphis headquarters. D. J. Waht kept the music going, but it was Stax instead of Stravinsky. He played Top 40s and rhythm and blues. Toe shoes were not required.


click to enlarge Marvin Ballin and Sam Fargotstein at Pillars of Excellence. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Marvin Ballin and Sam Fargotstein at Pillars of Excellence.

Members of the legal profession were placed on pedestals Aug. 26 at Pillars of Excellence at Hilton Memphis.

Honored this year were former University of Memphis president Shirley Raines, judges Julia Gibbons and James Todd and attorneys Homer Branan, John Houseal Jr., Jim Raines and Jim Warner.

Pillars of Excellence is a fundraising event for scholarships to the University of Memphis law school, said Marina Carrier, U of M alumni association event coordinator. “To do that, we’re honoring individuals in the legal community who have practiced for a minimum of 40 years.”

A total of $75,000 was raised at this year’s event, which is the eighth Pillars of Excellence, Carrier said.

U of M alumni law chapter president Richard Glassman was emcee.


click to enlarge Tonya Sesley-Baymon and Congressman Steve Cohen at Memphis Urban League Empowerment Luncheon. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Tonya Sesley-Baymon and Congressman Steve Cohen at Memphis Urban League Empowerment Luncheon.

Ron Harris, a former reporter for the now defunct Memphis Press-Scimitar, was the speaker at the Memphis Urban League Empowerment Luncheon, held Aug. 24 at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis.

The award-winning Harris, now adjunct journalism professor at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University, also is the managing editor of the Howard University News Service.

He also worked at EBONY magazine, the Los Angeles Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Asked why Harris was selected to speak, Memphis Urban League president/CEO Tonja Sesley-Baymon said, “He’s a Memphian - one - and an award-winning journalist. So, when I discovered what the National Urban League’s theme was for 2017 - ‘Protect Our Progress’ and ‘Put People First’ - I thought he would be a great person to talk about protecting the progress of African-Americans. And talk about the strides we’ve made as a people. And the next step: to move forward.”


click to enlarge Impala at Tiki Night at Railgarten. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Impala at Tiki Night at Railgarten.

Impala performed on stage near a movie screen showing surfers riding big waves at Tiki Night Aug. 24 at Railgarten. A group of guys played beach volleyball nearby.

But Impala really isn’t a surf band, said guitarist John Stivers. “We certainly have those elements,” he said. “It’s easy to lump an instrumental band that plays that style of music into that. And I don’t mind somebody calling us that. For lack of a better term, that’s what we are. But we span genres.”

They’ve also been called “crime jazz,” he said. “Just think about James Bond themes. That kind of stuff. Guitar heavy. Staccato-type picking. But a lot of times it will have horns.”

He also has heard their songs described as “creepy noir” - “dark, creepy music that would accompany an old movie.”

Surf music “all revolves around a certain type of beat. There’s a thing called ‘surf beat.’ It would typically have more classic rock and roll licks to it, but all the guitars drenched in reverb. It has a little more rock and roll feel to it.”

Surf music “might have been what got us started,” he said. “We listened to the Ventures and Dick Dale and all that stuff. But we also listened to Booker T and the MGs. And John Barry, who did all the James Bond themes - the earlier ones with all the guitar sounds. And spaghetti westerns. We strived to mix all that down together.”

As for the Railgarten stage, Stivers said, “I like that venue. I’d like to play there again. It’s a fun place to play, that’s for sure.”

And Stivers did NOT use the word “gnarly.”


click to enlarge John Halford, Anna-Lise Halford, Jose Velazquez and Jennifer Velazquez at Next Door. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • John Halford, Anna-Lise Halford, Jose Velazquez and Jennifer Velazquez at Next Door.

Guests were introduced to the Baja burger (Home Place Pastures ground beef, guacamole, cilantro slaw, roasted Jalapenos and lime crema), wild caught Alaskan Salmon bowl (pan roasted with Tuscan kale, beets, quinoa and lemon) and curry chicken salad sandwich (green apple, golden raisins, celery and lettuce) at the soft opening of Next Door American Eatery Aug. 24 in the Crosstown Complex.

The menu groaned with more salads, bowls, sandwiches, burgers and soups.

“We’re a scratch kitchen,” said Next Door assistant general manager Scott Lawrence. “We try to source everything as local as we can. As sustainable as we can. Everything is made in the kitchen for the most part that day.”


click to enlarge Paula Anderson and Anthony Hicks at PRSA Memphis networking event at Jack Robinson Gallery. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Paula Anderson and Anthony Hicks at PRSA Memphis networking event at Jack Robinson Gallery.

PRSA Memphis celebrated PRSA DIversity Month with a networking event Aug. 22 at the Jack Robinson Gallery.

“At the beginning of this year the national organization said PRSA was going to make a more concerted effort to promote diversity and inclusion from a national level and throughout our local chapters,” said James Dowd, president of the Memphis chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

Their chapter previously held mixers, but this was the first one devoted to promoting diversity and inclusion, Dowd said. “This is something we will actively promote throughout our programming day to day month to month moving forward. This is the first in a series to situate Memphis PRSA as a leader in diversity and inclusion among our peers and throughout the country. To bring everyone together to have these conversations. Where are we doing a good job promoting diversity and inclusion and where do we need to get better?”

University of Memphis’s Prizm Chamber Music Ensemble members Noel Medford, Joseph Miller and Dylan Willis performed music to network by.

About 150 people attended the event, Dowd said.

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