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Ballet Memphis unveils final design for new Midtown headquarters

The Commercial Appeal
Thomas Bailey Jr.  


Ballet Memphis on Thursday unveiled the final designs for a see-through headquarters built to beckon Overton Square passersby to stop and watch the dancers move.

Newly released architectural renderings show plazas and courtyards that open to the sidewalks.

Transparent walls of perforated copper and glass are clear invitations: The public is welcome.

"The whole purpose of being on the corner is to draw in and connect with the community and be able to put art on display,'' said LeeAnne Cox, a longtime board member who chairs the project.

Construction is about to start on the northeast corner of Madison and Cooper and should be completed in 2017.

The nonprofit's board this week gave the go-ahead for the $12.6 million building. The entire project totals $20.6 million, including last year's $4.2 million purchase of the old French Quarter Inn on 1.7 acres as well as demolition and soft costs.

The 38,000-square-foot building is not designed as a big performance hall. However, informal and small performances are important enough to the plan that retractable bleachers are in the design.

Five studios will provide rehearsal space for Ballet Memphis's professional company and accommodate Ballet Memphis School and Pilates Centre classes.

The design by archimania places the biggest, professional studio -- 5,000 square feet and 45-feet-high -- at the plaza on the corner of Madison and Cooper. The ceiling is tall enough for rigging to allow Peter Pan to ''fly'' in rehearsals.

Even the costume shop on the far end of the building will be part of the street show.

"There's another courtyard,'' said Cox, an attorney with Burch, Porter & Johnson. "We want to draw passersby all the way to the eastern end of the building. That will be the costume designing. Incredible. You can see artisans making costumes and costumes on display. It will be an art display itself, all highly visible and engaging.''

Dorothy Gunther Pugh, chief executive officer and founding artistic director of Ballet Memphis, said in written comments that the headquarters will be more than a stunning structure.

"It will help define how dance and movement can be experienced in the future, here or anywhere,” she said.

The building will also house offices, community spaces and even a place for a cafe. The site provides ample parking for patrons, Ballet Memphis officials said.

Todd Walker, principal at archimania, said in a release, "This is one of the most exciting and dynamic creative environments we've worked on here or anywhere.''

He said the building will be another anchor for the Overton Square performing arts district, which already has four live-performance theaters, a movie theater and live music venues.

"The physical space ‘choreographs’ interaction between motion on the sidewalks and motion in the studios,'' Walker said. "It’s incredibly compelling. Ballet Memphis is the perfect complement to all that is offered currently in Overton Square as it will be an active and high-traffic presence on the Square, seven days a week.”

This is the second building archimania has designed for Overton Square. The firm designed Hattiloo Theatre which opened in 2014.

Grinder Taber Grinder will build the Ballet Memphis building.

Ballet Memphis is in the silent phase of a capital campaign totaling $31 million, which includes support for an artistic reserve and increased endowment as well as the new building.

Ballet Memphis now is headquartered at a Cordova studio that opened in 1998. Its three studios and administrative offices are at capacity.

The nonprofit also operates the Pilates Centre of Ballet Memphis in a separate building on Kirby Parkway near Poplar in East Memphis, and will continue to operate a ballet school in the eastern part of the community.

Ballet Memphis will celebrate its 30th season with 30 pop-up community events
and guest appearances, starting with Pairings, a tent event on the Overton Square site scheduled for May 14. Pairings will match original choreography with the beer of local breweries.

Tickets are $40 and may be purchased at balletmemphis.org.

Ballet Memphis employs 32 dancers and has a $4.4 million operating budget

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