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Ballet Memphis' Midtown gem taking shape, from The Commercial Appeal

, USA TODAY NETWORK – TennesseePublished 10:08 a.m. CT June 16, 2017 | Updated 11:05 a.m. CT June 19, 2017

 

Ballet Memphis starts moving next month into its new Midtown building that will be exposed to the public by lots of openings, glass and courtyards.

All for the sake of accessibility.

A gleaming copper art wall -- see-through, of course -- will partially cloak the $21 million facility housing the administrative headquarters, rehearsal studios, costume shop, dance school, and Pilates space. There will be benches for resting, a cafe for eating and lots to view:  Dance rehearsals and training and colorful costumes on display as well as artworks and landscaping.

The building designed by archimania all but screams to Overton Square's sidewalk crowds: "Come over and come inside.''

The grand opening will be Aug. 25-26, but grand access will continue indefinitely.

"I think it's going to be the most unique ballet headquarters in the nation for a while. Until people maybe imitate us or decide they want to do similar things,'' Dorothy Gunther Pugh said while leading a tour this week among construction workers who painted doorways, cut holes for light fixtures, buffed concrete floors, and sprayed insulation.

What other dance companies may eventually latch onto is the abundance of accessibility designed into the building, said Gunther Pugh, the chief executive and founding artistic director of Ballet Memphis.

"It's smack in the middle of an entertainment district and it's right up on the corner and it's going to have a lot of openness,'' she said. "And a lot of glass. And it's going to have a lot of opportunities to come in and out in ways that I will call on the audience or the users to define. It's not just for us to say 'This is what we're going to do and you do it on our terms.'''

Earlier this month, Gunther Pugh led a workshop about ballet company buildings for the annual conference of Dance USA in Kansas City.  

"My peers were shocked we're having a restaurant,'' she said. "They said, 'Gosh, What a great idea. Why didn't we think of that?'''

Other ways the facility is designed to be welcoming and transparent:

  • Three public courtyards are notched among the four dance studios so that pedestrians can stop and watch the movement inside;
  • Inside, the glass balcony railings will enhance the view of the dancers below;
  • A changing display of ballet costumes -- selected from an inventory of more than 6,000 pieces -- will face Madison Avenue;
  • The stitching and other colorful work in the costume workshop will happen behind glass for all to see;
  • Comfortable, retractable benches will be available inside to watch rehearsals and small performances;
  • And the dance company's hours will be shifted so that rehearsals and training take place until 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, when Overton Square's sidewalks are thick with people.

The building will even include a retail area so that visitors can buy items like nutcrackers when "The Nutcracker'' is staged or merchandise with the Ballet Memphis logo.

The shop offers another opportunity for visitors to engage with Ballet Memphis, Gunther Pugh said, adding, "They don't have to come in here to sign their life away for ballet classes for a year.''

Ballet Memphis will sell its existing headquarters in suburban Cordova at 7950 Trinity.

That's a striking building, too. It's also designed with lots of glass and adorned with five "Dancers'' sculptures by artist Brian Russell. (The artwork will be moved atop the wall behind the new Midtown building.) Trouble is, the suburban headquarters is embedded within Cordova's big-box, strip-center territory where sidewalk life is practically nonexistent.  

The former chief executive of National Arts Strategies would not be surprised that Ballet Memphis is building a cutting-edge headquarters.

"Ballet Memphis is a creative force in dance nationally -- recognized by the field as a leader in creating beautiful work as well as a strong and diverse company,'' said Russell Willis Taylor, who is now an interim vice president at the Banff Centre for Arts and Culture in Canada.

"Long before it was being adopted by other companies, Dorothy Gunther Pugh built her company around not only high artistic standards but also a respect and concern for the dancer as a person -- someone who needs career support and personal development,'' Taylor said.

Late next month, the curtain literally rises on the new headquarters at the northeast corner of Madison and Cooper. A decorative screen of perforated copper will be installed in front of much of the building. City planners dubbed it an "art wall,'' a term Gunther Pugh likes.

"It's a great metaphor for what we do,'' she said of the copper curtain. "When the curtain opens... It is the most diverse classical ballet company of note in America now. We've built an institution that talks and walks the walk. This building, I hope, will reflect that and will encourage it for years to come.''

The archimania architects compare the 38,000-square-foot building to a music box containing the "treasures'' of dancers and their movement.  "A music box may be opened and closed to hide or reveal its contents….much like the gauzy overhangs and deep insets of the building act as the opening lid that brings to light the activity within,'' archimania states on its website.

Gunther Pugh is more plainspoken in describing how the building will look:  "I think the aesthetics will knock the socks off of them.''

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Ballet Memphis at 1:16 PM
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