Dance company modifies traditional style with exuberant music, modern choreography

Ballet is a classical form of dance that many recognize to be full of twirls and peaceful music. Dance group Ballet Memphis steps away from that archetype, instead making its performances more modern and entertaining even to those unfamiliar with more basic types of dance.

Ballet Memphis performed in the last show of the spring 2018 Geneseo Limelight and Accent series on Saturday April 14 in the Wadsworth Auditorium. The show contained three numbers: “Confluence,” “The Fingers of Your Thoughts” and “In Dreams.” These numbers reflected the group’s dancing style—a more contemporary form of ballet (Elizabeth Jacobs/ design & layout editor). 

For the last show of the spring 2018 semester, the Geneseo Limelight and Accents series hosted Ballet Memphis on Saturday April 14 in the Wadsworth Auditorium. The ensemble performed three separate numbers. Each number had intricate messages that were portrayed in manners which strayed away from traditional ballet.

Memphis began with a number called “Confluence,” which was about the journey of making a home and the community that comes from that journey, according to the choreographer Steven McMahon’s notes in the show’s program. 

In the only “classical” ballet section of the night, “Confluence” began with an excerpt from Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, ‘New World: Largo.’” The gentle presentation from the dancers elicited the feeling of the classical ballet genre, which the company broke away from in the following sections of “Confluence.” 

Mahalia Jackson’s “In the Upper Room” and Mavis Staples’s “Don’t Knock” were the backdrop to the energetic dancing of the troupe. These songs and the accompanying dances were much more upbeat and faster than the beginning section. This song choice added an enthusiastic twist to the ballet performance. 

Business administration major senior Deborah Bawe, who attended the performance, found that the troupe’s style strayed from and was more appealing than standard ballet.

“I liked ‘Don’t Knock.’ It was more upbeat and it was more my thing,” Bawe said. 

Bawe also enjoyed how Ballet Memphis’s more modern type of dance involves the traditional ballet jumps and turns.

Following “Confluence” was “The Fingers of Your Thoughts.” This number placed an emphasis on material objects and the pressure society puts on children at a very young age. 

The first section, for example, involving Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne no. 3,” had the dancers passing around a soft white ball, showing an obsession with the possessing it. In the same number, the dancers mimicked typical children’s games such as patty cake or leapfrog in a performative way. 

The final number was “In Dreams,” which portrayed a “sometimes dark, always passionate journey through six of the [Roy Orbison’s] most popular songs,” according to the choreographer Trey McIntyre’s notes in the program. The number focused on one’s hopes to achieve their dreams rather than actually accomplishing them. 

Ballet Memphis was founded by CEO and Founding Artistic Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh in 1986 and has since grown from a company of two dancers to one with 26, according to the program. 

The goal of bringing Ballet Memphis to Geneseo was to give the community more of a diverse dancing experience, according to Limelight and Accents co-coordinator sophomore Jane Baranello. 

“We just thought it would be a great fit for campus. It’s a fun show, it’s great quality, it’s professional, it’s amazing to watch them move the way they move,” Baranello said. “I think that ballet is the foundation of a lot of different dance forms and so I know a lot of dancers are trained in ballet are beyond, and it’s something they can connect to.”

Like Ballet Memphis, Baranello hopes that future Limelight and Accents shows make an impact on Geneseo as a whole.

“I hope everyone will look into us for next year,” Baranello said. “Limelight is a wonderful series … we have a bunch of stuff in the works so check us out. Sometimes a random performance is something that changes your life, I know [they have] changed mine.”