Cre­ativ­ity, col­lab­o­ra­tion thrived in 2015

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - STAGE - By Jon W. Sparks Spe­cial to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal

The past year has been upbeat in the per­form­ing arts with in­no­va­tive and of­ten in­spired work.

The Mem­phis Symphony Orchestra con­tin­ues its ef­fort to back away from the brink since last year’s fis­cal cri­sis. In Oc­to­ber, the or­ga­ni­za­tion and the mu­si­cians reached an agree­ment that raises salaries and em­pha­sizes com­mu­nity en­gage­ment. Also this year, mu­sic di­rec­tor Mei-ann Chen said she would leave at the end of the 2015-16 sea­son. Robert Moody, a fre­quent guest con­duc­tor, will be prin­ci­pal con­duc­tor start­ing next sea­son with a two-year con­tract.

The orchestra’s CEO, Roland Val­liere, stepped down af­ter two years as a “turn­around spe­cial­ist” to get the MSO back on its feet. Jen­nifer Brad­ner is now in­terim CEO, guid­ing the orchestra through, as she says, its phoenix phase. Mem­phis in May In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val told the MSO that this year’s Sun­set Symphony at Tom Lee Park would be the last, though less than six months later, the MSO per­formed at the Bass Pro Out­door Con­cert in what could be a con­tin­u­ing river­front gig. The con­cert sea­son has been spare, but one of the best per­for­mances came in March: Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins,” writ­ten in 1933, was sung by the mes­mer­iz­ing Storm Large with the MSO in splen­did form

The IRIS Orchestra con­tin­ued to soar with al­ways-in­trigu­ing pro­gram­ming by Mae­stro Michael Stern. In Jan­uary, it pre­miered a com­mis­sioned piece: Bruce Adolphe’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo “I Will Not Re­main Silent,” per­formed by Sharon Roff­man.

Bal­let Mem­phis per­formed tra­di­tiona l (“Swan Lake”) as well as in­no­va­tive new works through­out the year. Es­pe­cially no­table was the elec­tri­fy­ing pro­duc­tion “I Am,” which pre­miered four ground­break­ing works in Fe­bru­ary that were all dif­fer­ent and all thrilling. The com­pany also per­formed for a week in Oc­to­ber at the pres­ti­gious Joyce Theater in New York City, gar­ner­ing largely fa­vor­able re­views and im­press­ing on sev­eral lev­els.

It was a year of col­lab­o­ra­tion for New Bal­let Ensem­ble and School, do­ing a per­for­mance at the Mid­town Opera Fes­ti­val and work­ing with the Mem­phis Symphony Orchestra in the am­bi­tious “Mem­phis Re­nais­sance,” a di­verse mu­sic and move­ment per­for­mance at the Le­vitt Shell.

Opera Mem­phis con­tin­ued rais­ing the ante this year with a va­ri­ety of per­for­mances de­signed to reach wider au­di­ences. April’s 10-day Mid­town Opera Fes­ti­val pre­sented six opera per­for­mances plus a va­ri­ety of cabaret, theater, film, lec­tures and con­certs. And a $30,000 grant from the NEA helped fund the an­nual 30 Days of Opera project.

Play­house on the Square de­buted the New­works@the­works se­ries of win­ners of its play-writ­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Sub­mis­sions were first so­licited about three years ago, and the se­ries is pre­sent­ing two win­ners a year in an ef­fort to en­cour­age new voices.

Ten­nessee Shake­speare Com­pany teamed with the Univer­sity of Mem­phis’ Depart­ment of The­atre & Dance to bring a Southern-fla­vored version of “A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream” in June. The com­pany also pre­sented “400: The Shake­speare Feast,” in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber, with din­ner, drinks, read­ings and per­for­mances at the Mem­phis Hunt & Polo Club.

Au­gust’s Os­tran­der Awards smiled on Ce­celia Win­gate, who won


for her di­rec­tion of The­atre Mem­phis’ “Ad­dams Fam­ily” and also picked up a win in the Sup­port­ing Ac­tress in a Drama cat­e­gory for her role in Voices of the South’s “Dis­tance.” She also ap­peared in the re­mark­able Voices of the South pro­duc­tion of Jerre Dye’s pre­miere of “Short Sto­ries” in Novem­ber.

Other no­table per­for­mances on lo­cal stages:

■ Hat­tiloo The­atre’s “Purlie Vic­to­ri­ous,” “Hoodoo Love” by Mem­phian Ka­tori Hall, “King Hed­ley II” by Au­gust Wil­son and a mov­ing mu­si­cal “Sim­ply Si­mone.”

■ Pow­erfu l per­for­mances at Cir­cuit Play­house of “Bad Jews,” “Sem­i­nar” and the mu­si­cal “As­sas­sins.”

■ A re­mark­able stag­ing of “Rap­ture, Blis­ter, Burn” at The­atre Mem­phis’ Next Stage was oddly left out of any Os­tran­der con­sid­er­a­tion. The small stage also had strong pre­sen­ta­tions of “Copen­hagen” and “The Gin Game” with Jim and Jo Lynne Palmer.

■ Play­house on the Square had mem­o­rable per­for­mances of “The Rocky Hor­ror Show,” “The Gospel at Colonus,” “I Love You, You’re Per­fect, Now Change,” “The Seag­ull” and “Vanya and So­nia and Masha and Spike.”

In Septem­ber, Brett Bat­ter­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Au­di­to­rium The­atre of Roo­sevelt Univer­sity, was an­nounced as the new leader of the Or­pheum, re­plac­ing Pat Hal­lo­ran, who is re­tir­ing af­ter 35 years at the helm of the Down­town theater.

Hal­lo­ran capped his long ten­ure by open­ing the $14.5 mil­lion Or­pheum Cen­tre for Per­form­ing Arts and Ed­u­ca­tion, also in Septem­ber.

One of the city’s most sig­nif­i­cant arts supporters died this month. An­drew Clark­son was a long­time backer and bene­fac­tor of arts or­ga­ni­za­tions in the area. The Os­tran­ders this year hon­ored him and his Je­niam Foun­da­tion with its “Be­hind the Scenes Award.”


Crys­tal Broth­ers was lu­mi­nous in Bal­let Mem­phis pro­duc­tions of “Swan Lake” and “Romeo and Juliet” this year.


Storm Large gave a mem­o­rable per­for­mance do­ing Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins” with the Mem­phis Symphony Orchestra.


Ekun­dayo Ban­dele — in ad­di­tion to a pow­er­ful per­for­mance in “King Hed­ley II” — con­tin­ued to steer Hat­tiloo Theater into di­rec­tions both cre­ative and com­mu­nity-ori­ented.

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