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VOL. 8 | NO. 28 | Saturday, July 4, 2015

Editorial: Ballet Memphis a Perfect Partner for Overton Square

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When news surfaced of Ballet Memphis’ impending move to Overton Square, it was met with mixed emotions.

Some groans, for sure. Midtown certainly could use a hotel, especially in the newly bustling district. And an independent, boutique hotel – which was the previous possibility for the primo real estate at the corner of Madison Avenue and Cooper Street – would have been a nice addition to the nightlife hotspot.

Think sexy pool cabanas, sleek cocktails, dim lighting. “Hotel Overton,” as it was to be named, would have been further proof that Memphis was coming into its own as a millennial-friendly destination with acceptable lodging options for the hipster-friendly clique.

But here’s the thing about hip: Memphians have no use for it. Memphians don’t care about sleek cocktails. There’s a reason Fly Lounge didn’t make it at FedExForum. There’s a reason “grit-n-grind” is a citywide rallying cry. If Memphis is anything, at its core, it’s genuine.

So how does all of this relate to the ballet? The ballet is Memphis. It’s diverse, eclectic, artistic. It’s, “Wow, I can’t believe Memphis has something this cool.” Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis’ CEO and founding artistic director, told The Memphis News this week that the company, through its productions, has been able to spread the proud Memphis brand across the U.S.

Ballet aficionados nationally have come to expect the high-level artistry and technique typically found in the likes of bigger, more established city’s companies.

Ballet Memphis’ headquarters will reflect that brand. Celebrated Memphis architecture firm archimania has big plans for the new space. Firm principal Todd Walker proclaims it “one of the most exciting and dynamic creative spaces” archimania has ever worked on. Thanks to an abundance of glass and street proximity, the design will allow passersby to catch glimpses of contorting dancers rehearsing elaborate productions.

And yes, Midtown Memphis surely will get its day with a hotel. Developers and investors are in the game to make money; Ballet Memphis will only make Midtown more desirable to them, but, more importantly, to the broader Memphis community.

Pugh talks about Midtown and its “pockets of creative energy.” She talks about “the flame of ballet technique” as a conduit for “social responsibility.” She talks about more exposure, more recognition of her organization’s impressive work.

That’s why Ballet Memphis is the perfect fit for Overton Square. It’s an arts cornerstone. It will further round out the corridor as a cultural destination. It will enhance the organizations that already call Overton Square home: Playhouse on the Square, Hattiloo Theatre, Circuit Playhouse. Rumblings persist that more could join the party, including the Memphis Symphony Orchestra.

And we can be sure that Ballet Memphis is more sustainable to the district’s broader vision. It isn’t subject to the wild swings of consumer loyalty.

Pugh said Ballet Memphis is “nationally respected for pushing the boundaries of the art form.”

“Our art form is about pulling dichotomies together and using the ground to fly, to soar,” she said.

What could be more Memphis than that?

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