New Ballet Ensemble at the Kennedy Center
A year ago this week, The Washington Post’s dance writer, Robert Battey, penned a rave review about “Harlem,” a new dance work created by New Ballet Ensemble (NBE). He described the original work commissioned for the National Symphony Orchestra’s “New Moves” mini-festival — set to music by Duke Ellington — as being “simply dazzling, eliciting an audience response that dwarfed all that had gone before.”
Hometown audiences can take in a free revival of “Harlem” this Saturday night (May 16th) when New Ballet Ensemble joins with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra (MSO) at the Levitt Shell for the Memphis Renaissance Concert.
The Memphis Renaissance Concert is a fitting tribute to longtime arts advocate and patron Martha Ellen Maxwell. Not only was she a past executive director of the MSO, she played a pivotal role in saving both the Orpheum Theatre and the Overton Park band shell where the concert is taking place. The latter revitalized concert venue was restored and rechristened as the Levitt Shell in 2007.
Maxwell died last year at the age of 85, leaving behind an extraordinary cultural legacy. She was the first executive director of Memphis in May and the founding director of the long-running Arts in the Park series. Maxwell also served as president of the Tennessee Arts Commission and was the first director of Memphis’ Film and Tape Commission, which later evolved into the Memphis & Shelby County Film and Television Commission.
New Ballet Ensemble jookin at the Capitol
Memphis Renaissance finds the Memphis Symphony Orchestra playing a selection of modern work, including Bright Sheng’s interpretation of “Black Swan,” “Three Dream Portraits” by Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes, and a big band arrangement by Jimmie Lunceford, the composer and bandleader who created the music program for Memphis City Schools while serving as the band director at Manassas High School.
The evening closes with Duke Ellington’s “Harlem,” a celebration of the New York neighborhood’s famous renaissance in a city that would appear to be having one of its own.
Memphis Renaissance is sponsored by Mei-Ann’s Circle of Friends. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and guests are invited to bring coolers and blankets. There is a pre-concert panel discussion with New Ballet Ensemble choreographer Katie Smythe, MSO conductor Mei-Ann Chen, and musician and arranger Sam Shoup. They will discuss big bands and the part Memphis culture played in Harlem’s renaissance.
All events are free and open to the public.