Ballet Memphis, founded by artistic director and CEO Dorothy Gunther Pugh, is recognized for its close ties to the region’s rich musical and literary heritage through dance, production and training, including its lauded Memphis Project works. Heralded for its innovations as a ballet company committed to creating and commissioning relevant work, nurturing young, up-and-coming choreographers, and expanding the roles of dancers within the company and the community, Ballet Memphis currently is celebrating its 30th anniversary season.
The Ford Foundation lauded Ballet Memphis as a “national treasure,” and the company has received grants and high praise from other foundations and national media alike, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Dance Project, the New York Times, The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Dance magazine, Pointe magazine and others.
In addition to its mixed repertory programs, Ballet Memphis also presents story ballets, often retold and choreographed anew. Choreographers who have created works on Ballet Memphis include Steven McMahon (Current Artistic Associate for Ballet Memphis), Julia Adam, Trey McIntyre (resident choreographer from 2001-07), Mark Godden, Dana Tai Soon Burgess, Jane Comfort, Lila York, Robert Battle, Thaddeus Davis, and Emily Coates and Lacina Coulibaly, both of whom worked with Ballet Memphis as part of a dance fusion exploration supported in part by the World Performance Project at Yale University.
The company has performed to critical acclaim in New York at both the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse and the Joyce Theater. Its performances as part of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ “Ballet Across America II” showcase were heralded in the New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as in national dance media. Ballet Memphis also has performed at Houston’s Dance Salad, Spring to Dance in St. Louis, and Canada’s Festival des Arts Saint-Sauveur.
Pugh founded Ballet Memphis in 1986, growing the professional company from two dancers to the current 32. One of only five female artistic directors of similar-sized American dance companies, Pugh often speaks in the media and on national panels about American dance and the role of women in dance leadership, including PBS Newshour, the National Endowment for the Arts Dance Panel and the Glass Slipper Ceiling Symposium, among others. A recipient of the Gordon Holl Outstanding Arts Administrator’s Award, Pugh also was a fellow at the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford University Graduate School of Business and is the only Memphian named to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (RSA). She is a current fellow with the National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program.
A fifth-generation Memphian, Pugh graduated from Vanderbilt University and completed dance teacher-training courses at the Royal Academy of Dance in London and with New York ballet master David Howard.