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A Quickie with

Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis founder.


Earlier this month, Ballet Memphis announced its 2005 - 2006 season schedule. The season includes inevitable classics such as The Nutcracker, as well as new pieces like Ellington, choreographed by company member Garrett Ammon.

But the ballet also got bad news this month when the Greater Memphis Arts Council reduced member groups' funding by 8 percent. We got en pointe to talk to Dorothy Gunter Pugh about the ballet's various balancing acts.

Flyer: How have the cuts affected Ballet Memphis?

Pugh: I can't really sugarcoat it. Combined with the economic downturn we've experienced for a number of years, we're struggling. I think there's a general malaise across the country. People aren't even buying as many tickets to movies.

[The Greater Memphis Arts Council] has cut funding to member groups 15 percent in the past three years. We pay our artists to be here all year round. I think the only other organizations that do that are the symphony and Playhouse [on the Square]. Our roster of artists is very important to us. Especially as someone trying to pay talented people, it's very competitive. The Grizzlies coach wants to have competitive salaries and pay what he can for the best talent. It's the same way with us.

The last few seasons you've held performances at some nontraditional venues such as the roof of the Gibson Guitar Factory. This season, Momentum 7 will be performed at the First Congregational Church. Why?

Part of it is that the cultural signposts in America are saying you have to take your art out where the people are. The other part is that performing in a large theater is getting more and more expensive. I'd rather put my money in people rather than in buildings. We have to have buildings and a setting that shows our work to its best advantage. It's an incredible balancing act. I can't justify having all our performances at The Orpheum when it costs what it costs.

Last year you started Connections, fusing dance with work by visual artists, photographers, and videographers. This year, Connections will feature food. What's that about?

Call me crazy. I really like seeing commonalities in things.

I went to a restaurant in Chicago that had 15 small courses. The chef had worked with a designer on the utensils so they enhanced the taste of the food. It's very similar to what choreographers do. They have to be conscious of the set and the costumes. It all serves to enhance what the choreographer wants the audience to experience.

It's fun to make the comparison. n

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