The Origin of Nut Remix and our Curriculum and Performance Values
New Ballet Ensemble and School was founded in 2002 with the intention to provide equitable access to excellence in dance training in order to bridge the divide in our community and nation among people of different backgrounds including race, age, socioeconomic status, and culture.
In the process, youth would be reached in their communities and bridged to Midtown Memphis to "come together" over many years of growth with equity in access to master artists, 360 degree support and exposure to the nation and world. We would intend the conversations, verbal and danced, across generations and races to demonstrate what former President, Barack Obama now calls the "Tapestry of Humanity". We put our graduates on a career path and hired them to teach in the studio, schools and communities where they (we) grew up.
In many ways, we'd be proud to point to our successes as "mission accomplished", but this work is ongoing and never complete. We also have not been perfect, and have learned from missteps, as dancers do. Clearly the events of the last few months have proven that there is an underlying bias in society against Black citizens, a great divide in access to food, health services and education, broadband and post-secondary and professional arts career access. And nowhere is this more evident than in our hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Our Board of Directors, students, Teaching Artists and Trainees and Staff feel this acutely. That's why you will see a large Black Lives Matter banner hanging on York Avenue not far from Nosy's mural of Three Shoes and Bare Feet, representing the cultures of the dances and dancers taught here.
Nut Remix began as a rewrite of the Nutcracker to be set in Memphis on iconic Beale Street. We started with the story and then engaged student input, implementing an outreach to immigrant artists in Memphis who would bring cultural authenticity to a traditional ballet that had been built on (and perpetuated) stereotypes. The first, a FedEx employee, offered her services for free in teaching us Chinese Dance, because she had been so disheartened with portrayals of her culture on stage.
Eventually, New Ballet student turned Trainee, Christti Streeter, introduced us to John and Candyce Washington and we began to develop a West African "divertissement" to represent African American heritage. "Where are WE?" a student asked. The organizational response was to listen. Christti provided access to local artists we had never met, both teachers in Memphis City Schools. They have been family since 2007.
Our multicultural family of artists that began work at 2166 Central Avenue and built 2157 York Avenue alongside Leadership include: The Washington Family, Noelia Garcia Carmona (associate Artistic Director) Maxx Reed, Chris Roberts, Kate Mashburn, Coley Campany, Melissa Leech, Lydia Matthews, Brandon Conger, Charles "Lil Buck" Riley, Christti Streeter (Sheopatra), Rudy Peyton, Jayme Stokes, Steven Tate, Jimmie Hewett, Shamar Rooks, Robin Sanders, Adrian Couch, Ptia Reed, Kaori Ogasawara, General McArthur Hambrick, Elizabeth Corbett and so many more. Longtime staff member, Kathy Coburn remembers every name who has walked through our doors (and their parents' names!) and our Leadership Team now includes Marc Willis as Chief Program Officer.
We are grateful for the foundation in culture and family formations that are sometimes fluid, and always eternal.
Personal Statement, Katie Smythe, CEO June 6, 2020
Dear New Ballet Family,
This is a personal statement and not a corporate message like so many that we’ve seen come across our emails. Those are important, but my intent is to connect all of us around what is going on in the context of our common ground, New Ballet, your children’s cultural home away from home. I believe that this will address our common pain.
I am grateful for your show of support for our organizational response to the recent acts of violence against Black citizens, and your solidarity with the staff and students of New Ballet and the communities we serve. The cancellation of programming on Blackout Tuesday to take a pause with our arts partners across the U.S. lifted up that statement, and we have received only support for the decision from parents, amplifying the message. Thank you.
The egregious violence perpetrated against Black citizens by those whose duty it is to protect and serve is impossible to reconcile. How do we go forward with our daily lives when we know that the chances of another depraved display of disregard for human life could be just around the corner? I am committed to supporting the young leaders in our midst who are brave and outspoken. That’s what it takes to make change. Black lives matter, and the protests around the country are broadcasting our absolute unwillingness to accept any more excuses for unjust killing and unequal treatment of citizens.
Members of our New Ballet Family, once students in our school, want to carry on with hope in their hearts and love for their work, and they will. It is up to those of us who have the voices to support them to do so. I must do so. Like too many Black citizens, our artist family has become accustomed to racial profiling, and are keenly aware that they “fit the description”. They are in pain, and they are afraid.
In 2014, Memphis born and celebrated tenor, Laurence Albert, held a discussion before rehearsal, with New Ballet artists, Jimmie Hewitt, Shamar Rooks, Jayme Stokes and Steven Tate. He talked to them about his childhood in Orange Mound during Jim Crow and how he never would have dreamed of crossing Central Avenue to go north to Union or Poplar for fear of arrest. There was no dancing that day until the artists shared experiences of being viewed by whites with suspicion, simply because of the color of their skin. Larry was setting the tone for the exploration of a seminal work, Langston Hughes Three Dream Portraits (set to Margaret Bonds’ score for piano and voice). He was connecting with the younger generation to dig into the artistic process with the goal of conjuring a piece that would remind our audience that there is work to do. It was an example of what we can do with our art, a beautiful protest. We cannot perform that right now, but we can activate.
By creating what Barack Obama calls a "broad coalition," together, we can usher in a new day for our children. New Ballet was founded to bring young people together through art, regardless of the ability to pay. We have stuck to that mission like glue, and now we must channel energy and resources towards equal justice and more equity, bridging the digital divide that has separated so many children from educational resources, our program, and family over the last months.
George Floyd was the victim of morally corrupt men. They exercised power over a citizen who was already a victim of systemic racism and poverty, out of a job, and desperate to survive. He was someone’s son, father, brother, uncle who was no threat to the men in front of him. Their unspeakable actions were facilitated by their belief that they could get away with murder. Across America, people are pushing back. It’s a moment we have been waiting for. It’s tragic that so many people have lost their lives in order for us to speak up and mobilize. We must keep going.
Led by our artists, New Ballet will donate funds from our Giving Tuesday campaign to equal justice initiatives in Memphis and continue our work to reach families with food and the message that we are here for their children when we are all able to be together again.
In the meantime, we will continue to teach, dance, learn, and expand programming in the best way we can. In line with our mission, we will place equity at the center of every decision and practice kindness in our daily interactions with one another.
We will grow together.
CEO and Founder
Resources for Self-Care and Conversations with Children on Race and Racism
Children's books to support conversations around racism:
Resources for white parents to raise anti-racist children:
- Coretta Scott King Book Award Winners: books for children and young adults
- 31 Children's books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance
- Parenting Forward podcast episode ‘Five Pandemic Parenting Lessons with Cindy Wang Brandt’
- Fare of the Free Child podcast
- PBS’s Teaching Your Child About Black History Month
- Your Kids Aren't Too Young to Talk About Race: Resource Roundup from Pretty Good
Articles to read:
Yo Yo Ma
"I’ve lived my life at the borders. Between cultures. Between disciplines. Between musics. Between generations.
And throughout my life I’ve learned that in culture, we build bridges, not walls. We believe that we are better together than alone. I am worried that we’ve lost sight of that belief in America". - - Yo Yo Ma
The following photos bridge 2003-2007.