Dorothy Gunther Pugh discusses 'Places Beyond'

When Associate Artistic Director Steven McMahon and I were discussing the focus of our second round of Ballet Memphis’ Places series, we decided upon Places Beyond as a way to extend our conversation with our audience about the ideas of places that are beyond our usual day-to-day dealings with our usual concepts of places. We wanted to focus on the idea of extended places that ask us to stretch our imaginations, perhaps places that cannot really quite be contained.                              

So, we pulled one of our strongest works, Mark Godden’s Angels in the Architecture, which was inspired by the Shaker religion. The Shakers’ all-consuming desire was to be at one with God, and they chose to reach that state (or place), by repressing sexual impulses and dancing into an altered state of elevation. They also left a body of beautiful, simple design, and in this brilliant piece the dancers and the designed chair together offer both homage to this curious and committed group in an exacting, moving work that lets us slip into what their devotion might at times have felt like. I think of it as such a fine example for art to set – exploring, imaginary and wondering at a group that was beyond and outside of the mainstream. Sometimes going to “places beyond” requires empathy, an important and necessary quality as we live together in relationships.

There are also two new works on the program. We asked Uri Sands to create a work that goes beyond our skin, but to think about it as the beyond being, a deep dive into the mysteries of the heart and its yearning. As I write this, the work is just beginning to be created, but I can tell you that I have been at various professional meetings with Uri, seen his fine company perform, and suspected he had a heart big enough, broad enough, and kind enough to tackle the feelings that are so often unknown until we somehow move some place deep, even if it might mean facing a fear we must also try and see.

And, in a large and opposite direction, there is Steven’s new work: think of the vast space beyond our planet Earth, the infinite universe that is filled with planets, stars, galaxies, meteors. Large beyond our comprehension, yet still we are determined to gaze upon that huge beyond, and imagine, explore, compute, measure, theorize and even try to make travel there more and more possible. Some may say this is foolishness. I say it is one of the most clearly hopeful signs of mankind’s best nature. 

In all three pieces, we really are addressing the human imperative to go beyond self to other, with eagerness, devotion and delight.