Q + A with Choreographer Marcus Jarrell Willis

Willis Answers a Few Questions for us Ahead of the Premiere of his "T&Cs Apply" in Winter Mix

How has the Memphis musical landscape informed your creation of this new work?

When approached by Steven for this creation, I immediately dove into music (love songs) that I had been influenced by over the course of many years, beginning at my childhood. Growing up in Texas, music has a particular soulful groove, which I recognised a similarity in the Memphis music scene. It has its differences, but the pulse of its soul is one and the same. This was the connecting point for me.

Where do you find inspiration? Is there something you do to help along your creative process?

I generally start with a piece of music. I’m very interested in storytelling. So, I often mull over a playlist of music until I begin to form a narrative in my mind. That usually turns into a film-like version of the work that replays over and over, as I listen to the music. The story of the work, whether it’s literal or abstract, is quite often complete in my head before I begin creating any material in the studio.

Is there anything in particular you hope the audience takes away from this performance?

There is a common theme in my works that deals with humanity and its existence within the human experience. I want the audience to see and feel their humanity. But, I also want them to take away something that maybe they didn’t initially see within themselves. Our ideals we hold in today’s society are very different, and that’s ok. Through the lens of my work, I simply want the audience to know and understand that, because there’s room for us all to share and contribute to this world with our individual perspectives.

You seem to keep very busy working and traveling. What’s next after this? Either business or pleasure.

The premiere of T&C’s Apply for Ballet Memphis is my second creation since the start of 2023. Following Winter Mix, I’ll be creating three additional new works, here in the US and in Wales, between now and the end of April 2023. Maybe then a brief vacation? Ha! It is busy, but I count my blessings as I know there are numerous choreographers around the world waiting for the opportunity to bring their works to life. I just feel honoured to be able to stand in my calling, and give, what has been given to me, back to the world.

Photo by Stepane Chouan

See "T&Cs Apply" in Winter Mix February 24-26, 2023 at Playhouse on the Square. Tickets available here!

Watch a short interview about "T&Cs Apply" with Ballet Memphis Artistic Director Steven McMahon here.


Marcus Jarrell Willis has performed with RIOULT, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, Tania Pérez- Salas Compañía de Danza and Ailey II. Willis performed with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 2008-2016, traveling around the world performing, teaching numerous masterclasses and participating through Outreach in various communities, both locally and abroad. As a teaching artist, he has engaged with Rambert Dance Professional Program, Tring Park Performing Arts School, TU Dance, Joffrey Southwest Dallas, Centre Chorégraphique James Carles, Amsterdam Dance Centre and various training programs, universities and conservatoires, globally. Willis is a YoungArts Level 1 award recipient and Presidential Scholar Nominee.

Willis has presented choreographic work in the 2009 TDDC Contemporary Dance Festival in NYC, The Ailey Dancer’s Resource Fund performances, The Dance Gallery Festival, The Moving Beauty Series and Gdánsk Festival Tańca in Poland. Commissions, residencies and film creations include works for Ailey II, TU Dance, NY Choreographic Institute, with dancers of New York City Ballet, Company Danzante, Ballet Cymru, The Juilliard School, SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, The Ailey School, University of Minnesota, Lucia Marthas Institute for the Performing Arts, Rubicon Dance, COCA, Satellite Collective, The Dance Gallery Festival Level Up Commission in 2013 and The 92nd Y Dance Introduction Series, among others. He was named Best Choreographer for TU Dance creation, Sensible Existence in City Pages 2018 Best of the Twin Cities. Willis was the 2018/19 Leverhulme Choreography Fellow at Rambert Dance in London, during which time he completed the evening length solo creation POM/POM, Portrait of Man/ Pieces of Me and created work with selected dancers of Rambert 2. Most recently, he was appointed the role of Resident Choreographer for Ballet Cymru in Newport, Wales UK, and is continuing the journey of building choreographic works for his independent dance performance project, MJ Willis Project-Inc.

Learn more about Willis by visiting his website.