Now celebrating its 20th anniversary season, Ballet Memphis is a creative resource to the nation as a maker and interpreter of the Mid-South region’s cultural legacy through dance, production and training. Artistic Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh founded the company in 1986 as Memphis Concert Ballet with two professional dancers and a budget of $75,000. Today, Ballet Memphis employs 14 professional dancers and has a $2.8 million budget. The company performs at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Memphis, as well as at non-traditional venues throughout the city and on tour. Ballet Memphis also performs for and presents teaching artist sessions to more than 15,000 students annually.
The Ford Foundation awarded Ballet Memphis $1 million New Directions/New Donors for the Arts grant in 2000. Ballet Memphis was one of only four dance companies in the U.S. to receive this honor. The other three companies were San Francisco Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and the Alvin Ailey School of American Dance.
In 2001, Ballet Memphis became the first Memphis arts organization to appear on a main stage in New York when the company performed at the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse to enthusiastic reviews by the New York press. Fast Company and The Wall Street Journal also featured articles about Ballet Memphis.
The following year, internationally renowned choreographer Trey McIntyre joined the Ballet Memphis staff, and in 2003, the company was one of nine dance companies invited to perform in Houston’s Dance Salad. In addition, Ballet Memphis dancers performed works by company member Garrett Ammon in the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur near Montreal, winning third place in the choreography competition, and later on, in Palm Desert, Calif., winning the Grand Prize. Most recently, the company performed on the Inside/Out Series at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass., in August 2005, and the company is scheduled to perform at the prestigious Joyce Theater in New York for a week in April 2007.
Ballet Memphis has garnered national interest through Creating Work That Matters: Memphis Choreographs to the Soul of a City, part of the Ford Foundation’s The Business of the Arts Monograph Series, and What Works: A Dance of Relevance,by Jocelyn Dong, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2004.
The Ballet Memphis School trains more than 600 students annually. Performance experience is provided through the Junior Company of Ballet Memphis. In addition, Ballet Memphis offers Pilates and movement instruction at the Hope and Healing Center. Ballet Memphis’ Educational Enrichment program is made possible in part by the generous support of the Greater Memphis Arts Council. In 2006-2007, the combined entities of Ballet Memphis—dance company, ballet school and Pilates Centre—served approximately 75,000 people.