By Mark Jordan (Special to Commercial Appeal) Thursday, May 8, 2014
The Broad Avenue Arts District will officially open its new Water Tower Pavilion Saturday with a performance by the celebrated New York modern dance company Camille A. Brown & Dancers.
The performance is also the kickoff to the eight-week "Dance On Broad" series, which positions the new 1,000-seat venue on the local arts scene with a unique focus on an often-overlooked form.
"As we were planning out the performance space, we were very cognizant of not trying to replicate something that's being done beautifully already in our city," says Pat Brown, the project director for the pavilion, of the district's decision to focus on dance over saturated fields like music and theater. "And having Collage Dance Collective on the street certainly heightened our awareness to dance."
Collage Dance Collective is a dance school founded by Kevin Thomas, a former principal dancer with the Dance Theater of Harlem, and Marcellus Harper dedicated to promoting ballet especially among minority populations. The company was started in New York in 2004. In 2007, it moved to Memphis and in 2012 to its current home at 2497 Broad just as the area, now dubbed the Broad Avenue Arts District, was beginning its resurgence.
The school currently teaches 120 students in its conservatory and another 200 children through partnerships with area schools such as Memphis College Prep and KIPP Memphis Collegiate Schools.
Collage has taken the lead in organizing "Dance On Broad," in particular the appearance by Brown, the recipient of several national fellowships and awards, including, twice, the prestigious Princess Grace Award.
"Camille is an emerging choreographer. Her star has just taken off and is rising," says Harper. "She's one of the most prolific African-American female voices in choreography today. Her work is very conscious, and she really addresses a lot of social topics through her work. We thought it was really a good fit for the festival because part of what we're trying to do is build community through this art form."
That sense of community-building continues through the rest of the "Dance On Broad" series, which follows up Brown's performance with six weeks of "community dances." These events will feature beginner dance lessons in a variety of styles followed by a dance party featuring a live band or disc jockey.
The "community dances" will run 6-9 p.m. Saturdays from May 17 to June 2. Styles to be featured include salsa (May 17), swing (May 24), line dancing (May 31), Afro House (June 7), Zumba (June 14) and Bollywood (June 21).
"Dance On Broad" will conclude on June 28 with a Best of Memphis Dance concert, featuring performances from a number of local dance companies, including Ballet Memphis.
"It's all about showcasing the great dance that we have in the city, from hip-hop to ballet to our national pom teams down to our majorettes," says Harper, who admits the local dance community has trepidations about how the city's first prolonged dance-oriented event is going to come off. "For us, it isn't really about increasing our exposure but really trying to raise the profile of dance in this city, which hopefully will benefit us but also other companies."
All events in the "Dance On Broad" series are free. The Water Tower Pavilion is being funded by a $350,000 grant from ArtPlace America, a nonprofit devoted to "creative placemaking." Carved out of the loading dock of a sunken warehouse on the north side of Broad, the pavilion cost approximately $150,000 to retrofit, including providing street access and seating and supplying lights and sound.
Though organizers have defined dance as the new venue's niche, the facility is available for rent and will host other arts events throughout the summer and fall, including Memphis Music Foundation showcases (July 12 and Oct. 4), two play presentations from Hattiloo (Aug. 2-9 and Sept. 25-28), and a 30 Days of Opera kickoff event in September.-----
"Dance on Broad"
Grand Opening of Broad Avenue's Water Tower Pavilion
7 p.m. Saturday
No admission charge