'I Am' and Steven McMahon featured by Dance Magazine

February 17th, 2015

Identity of a City         

This month, Ballet Memphis will present their I Am program, bringing together works from four choreographers based on the theme of identity and the history of the civil rights movement in America--a topic that has special meaning for Memphis, the site of many significant events during this period. Dancer and choreographer Steven McMahon will close the program with his piece for six dancers, also called I Am. McMahon, currently in his first season as the company's artistic associate, spoke to DM about his process. 

Where did you draw inspiration for I Am?

From a concept called ubuntu. It's primarily South African, and it basically translates to "I am because we are." I thought that really spoke to what Ballet Memphis is all about and I wanted to try and show that with the dancers: the best parts of yourself reflected in other people. 

What is the movement like?

The dancers begin the piece completely covered--you can't see whether they're male or female, black or white. There's nothing identifying them, and I wanted that because as it moves along, they reveal themselves. There's a lot of partnering where the dancers connect and then separate, going back into the individual but then coming together. 

Are you also dancing in the program?

I'm dancing in Gabrielle Lamb's I Am A Woman. I've been choreographing for Ballet Memphis since about 2005, and it can be a little nerve-wracking to dance and have a piece in the same program--your mind is not always quite where you need it to be. It's a balancing act. I'm not sure you ever get completely used to it, but I enjoy it. 

What is your advice for aspiring choreographers?

Watch as much dance as possible. That can be hard--not much dance comes through Memphis, so I have to actively seek it out, whether that's going places or watching online and reading about what's going on. Devour as much as you can.