Does Memphis have any better ambassador than street dancer and classical innovator Charles "Lil Buck" Riley? The city's Gangsta Walk and Jookin' dance styles have gone international and made a lasting impression on ballet and other forms. Lil Buck, the dances' best known practitioner, started winning dance battles at the Crystal Palace and making videos in parking lots, before hooking up with Midtown's New Ballet Ensemble. He's working on somewhat bigger budget movies these days, but he still can't keep the name of his hometown out of his mouth.
In a promotional video for Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Riley explains that producers contacted him after seeing a video of him performing at an international dance festival. "It's a funny story because I used to play the Mouse King in Memphis, Tennessee, for the longest," he says. "It was just incredible how it all pieced together."
- New Ballet Ensemble
Riley's use of the past tense is deceptive. Lil Buck, who danced the role of the Mouse King in a motion capture suit and appeared on screen as a million, swirling mice, is coming back to The Cannon Center to perform in yet another round of Nut ReMix, New Ballet Ensemble's locally inspired answer to the holiday classic.
"I was so happy to see right before the credits they had him dancing live and not in animation," says New Ballet Ensemble founder Katie Smythe. "People could see it was a person." Though the film hasn't been a Christmas miracle at the box office, Smythe says it's ramped up excitement around this year's show.
"He's being followed around by Netflix so they'll be following him around backstage," Smythe says. "With his non-profit Movement Art Is, he's really going back to the mission of using dance to reach hearts and minds in social and environmental justice."