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Ballet Memphis Names Steven McMahon as Its Next Artistic Director

Steven McMahon will take the helm of Ballet Memphis on July 1. Trey Clark, Courtesy Ballet Memphis.

Ballet Memphis announced some major news yesterday: Steven McMahon, a former company dancer, will become its next artistic director on July 1, 2019. Current artistic director Dorothy Gunther Pugh, who founded the company in 1986, will remain as Ballet Memphis' CEO.


McMahon, who is only 34, has big shoes to fill. Since starting Ballet Memphis nearly 33 years ago, Pugh has helped build its operating budget to $4 million (dancers receive 38-week contracts), and the company recently opened a $22 million rehearsal and performance space. But she has prepared McMahon well by increasing his leadership responsibilities within the company over time. He currently serves as associate artistic director, and before that held positions of artistic associate and choreographic associate. (He retired from the stage in 2016.) "I long ago recognized that I needed to groom the right person to guard what we have built and what we value at Ballet Memphis," Pugh said in a statement. "Steven has come up through this organization and grown as a dancer and dance-maker; he's the best choice as well as the right choice."

McMahon in rehearsal at Ballet Memphis. Jenny Myers, Courtesy Ballet Memphis.

A native of Glasgow, Scotland, McMahon moved to the U.S. to finish his training at The Ailey School before joining Ballet Memphis in 2004. Since then, he has created over 30 works for the company, including three full-lengths: The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan and Romeo and Juliet. He has also overseen Ballet Memphis' New American Dance Residency, a two-week program for emerging choreographers that immerses them in the city's local culture to encourage community-oriented work.

"My goal is to keep doing the vital work that has been the hallmark of Ballet Memphis," McMahon said in a statement. "Not only creating original, meaningful dances on, what I believe to be, the best and most diverse company in America but dismantling the barriers that have been inherent in classical ballet."

Ballet Careers
Roderick Phifer in Trey McIntyre's The Boogeyman . Bill Hebert, Courtesy BalletX.

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Roderick Phifer graduated from University of the Arts with a BFA in dance in 2017.

While walking out of a technique class during the first semester of his senior year at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, Roderick Phifer was approached with an unexpected offer. BalletX needed a guest artist for an upcoming performance, and after seeing Phifer perform in one of his senior shows, a UArts alumnus dancing with the company had offered up his name. Phifer ran straight from his technique class to a company class with BalletX, and the troupe's artistic leadership quickly gave him the green light to perform. "It was so last-minute, that, I kid you not, I had three rehearsals," he says. He performed with BalletX as a guest artist that fall, auditioned for an open company position in the spring and had a contract by the end of his senior year.

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Sponsored by The Rock School
From left: Sarah Lapointe, Derek Dunn and Jeanette Kakareka. Courtesy The Rock School

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Ballet dancers today are asked to do more with their bodies than ever before. The physical demands of a ballet career can take an immense toll on a dancer's joints and muscles—subjecting them to pain, inflammation and an increased risk of injury. Considering all that is required of today's dancers, having a top-notch recovery regime is paramount.

Enter Apolla Performance Wear, which is meeting ballet's physical demands with a line of compression footwear that is speeding up the recovery process for professional dancers by reducing inflammation and stabilizing the joints.

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