Alabama Dance Festival, Alys Stephens Center to Present Ballet Memphis

Ballet Memphis in “I AM.” Photo by Ari Denison. Courtesy of Ballet Memphis and the Alabama Dance Council.

Tennessee-based Ballet Memphis will stop by Birmingham for one performance at the Alys Stephens Center on Jan. 20.

The company is being co-presented by the Alabama Dance Council and the Alys Stephens Center as the Alabama Dance Festival’s guest company-in-residence.

Ballet Memphis will present its contemporary mixed-repertory program “I AM,” which debuted in Memphis in 2015.

“The ‘I AM’ program was conceived by Ballet Memphis founder and Artistic Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh,” says Associate Artistic Director Steven McMahon. “Each work looks at identity from a particular perspective.”

The performance’s culminating work will be McMahon’s “I AM” which explores humans’ interconnectedness and takes its inspiration from the South African philosophy of Ubuntu. Music selections include “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Mahalia Jackson’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Ballet Memphis in “I Am a Woman.” Photo by Ari Denison. Courtesy of Ballet Memphis and the Alabama Dance Council.

Other works will be “I AM a Child” by Julia Adam, “I Am a Man: Grace And Dignity” by Reggie Wilson and “I AM a Woman: Moult” by Gabrielle Lamb.

Adam’s piece is about loss and love and took its starting point from the choreographer’s feelings on viewing “Anti-Mass,” a 2005 sculpture by Cornelia Parker composed of the charred remains of a predominantly African-American Southern Baptist church destroyed by arson. The choreography is set to “Congo Lullaby” by Paul Robeson and “When They Ring Them Golden Bells” by Nathalie Merchant.

Wilson’s work is drawn from a various historic experiences including African-American’s struggle for acceptance and equality and Native American’s fight for habeas corpus in 1879. Music includes “ASCO” by Ali Farka Touré and Niafunké and “I Want Jesus to Walk With Me” by James Shorty and Mississippi Fred McDowell.

The theme of Lamb’s choreography is the role of women in the dance world and quest for a voice in society. “Satisfaction” and “Salty Dog” by Cat Power and “Ping” by Hauschka are among the pieces the work is set to.

Ballet Memphis’s “I AM” program at the Alabama Dance Festival is part of a two-year celebration of the state’s bicentennial.

Ballet Memphis

Jan. 20 at 8 p.m.
Alys Stephens Center
Jemison Concert Hall
Tickets start at $25.

Ballet Memphis “I AM ” promo from Elsie Management on Vimeo.