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."