Behind the Scenes of River Project: Moving Currents, with Artistic Director Dorothy Gunther Pugh

Welcome to our 28th season. It’s the final chapter of our much-heralded River Project series, and we’re so grateful you’ve joined us. Work from this series–all commissioned by Ballet Memphis to investigate, explore and laud the storied river on which we live–already has toured the country and internationally and will continue to tour for years to come. It’s a wonderful legacy to the artists who have been involved with this project.

River Project: Moving Currents is much more than what those words say. The two words call to mind that we lead ever-changing lives, and the art we create expresses that for us. Sometimes we move along carried by the current, and then sometimes we create it.

Matthew Neenan’s The Darting Eyes is one such example of traveling along artistic currents. He started this process by reading about steamboats, and he ended up being swept up by the baptisms that take place in the Mississippi River. Jim Linderman’s 2009 book Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Photography and Music 1890-1950 led Matthew to examine the faces of the countless people who have experienced this ritual. He thought about the seven deadly sins and the seven heavenly virtues, and how they might be expressed in this intense sacramental form and setting. Our dancers, moving as both a community and as individuals, go on a journey from wrath to patience, gluttony to temperance, sloth to inspiration.

Flyway, by our new Artistic Associate Steven McMahon, is another example of his inspired, observant and elegant work for Ballet Memphis. In his study of the Mississippi Flyway, a bird migration route that extends from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico, Steven discovered that the air currents and the terrain below both provide respite to the birds as they make their annual journeys. Birds reflect us as humans, as we too need to find respite as we fly through life. Birds, Steven says, show a wonderful balance between community and individuality. In our lives, in our work and certainly in our dancing, we move in groups and formations but sometimes it’s necessary to leave the flock for a bit. He worked with Memphis-based visual artist Erin Harmon on beautiful scenes inspired by both the natural beauty of the Mississippi and the birds who travel along it.

Finally, Night and Day in FedEx City, by Petr Zahradni?c?ek, was created on us for our Taking Flight special event in 2013. Petr first visited the FedEx hub during a night sort and was inspired by the ballet between the packages and the employees of FedEx. It is an engineering marvel to watch these parcels and boxes make a brief, orchestrated layover in our city as they journey around the world.

Whether delving into deep waters to wrestle with our lives or looking upward at the marvel of a migrating bird or a transporting airplane, we have so much to love, to wonder about, and to be interested in as we move in whatever currents we find ourselves.