Dance review: Ballet Memphis performers soar in 'Taking Flight'

A dusky sliver of moon and the beaming planet Jupiter hovered over the shoulders of Ballet Memphis dancers as they bounded across the Peabody hotel rooftop Saturday night. Celestial objects made a fitting backdrop for “Taking Flight,” a three-act concert and fundraiser with a star-crossed back story.

The show was originally supposed to take place in a gargantuan FedEx airplane hangar. Last fall, choreographer Petr Zahradnicek and others toured the facility at night with the intention of creating a dance based on the endless flow of packages and people through the corporation’s hub. As it turns out, having a dinner party/ballet in the same room with large airplanes is a nightmare of government red tape, not to mention the corporate bureaucracy that gave Zahradnicek permission to use the trademarked “FedEx” in the title of his piece, “Night and Day in FedEx City.” No sense of frustration or confusion is apparent in Zahradnicek’s work. Rather, his piece could be a nice little commercial for the overnight shipping company. To start, happy hub workers in white suits move robotically to the urgings of a plucky string quartet. Shipping boxes pass briskly across this conveyor belt made of people. In the second scene, a husband and wife are awakened by an alarm clock. Travis Bradley and Hideko Karasawa perform a sweet farewell duet for a pilot leaving to catch a plane.The most touching moment of the piece is when we discover that the pilot is not the tall, strong man, but the tiny ballerina who takes to her piloting job with childlike enthusiasm. The company’s two tallest dancers, Daniel Russell Cooke and Brandon Ramey, become the “wings” of her plane and take turns lifting her, birdlike, over their heads. Her smile suggests having the world’s most perfect job, soaring among the heavens. Seeing Karasawa weightless under the stars likely serves the piece better than seeing her under a hangar roof.

Certainly, the night sky befitted Travis Bradley’s reprised work “Splinters of the Stars,” originally inspired by the sparkle of diamonds. With a soundtrack of wistful tunes from the 1950s and ’60s such as Perry Como’s “Catch a Falling Star” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” Bradley softens the classical line, giving the movement a cool, vintage feel.

Julia Adam’s “Dew Point,” also revived from a couple of seasons ago, explores different aspects of water in a light-hearted, theatrical way. Again, with the dark Mississippi River on the horizon, the Peabody roof turned out to be the right place at the right time — a fall-back plan that traded the space from which the work was inspired for the space that nature intended for it.