Katie Smythe (CEO and Artistic Director, Ballet)
Ms. Smythe began her training with Memphis Ballet under Michael and Judy Tevlin, traveling to the Royal Academy of Dance and the Banff Centre of Performing Art in the summers to train with teachers from around the world. She performed with the State of Tennessee Ballet company in Nashville at age 13, the only non-professional artist selected by Director Norbert Vesak, of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. At the Banff School of Fine Arts, in addition to classical works, she performed Time Out of Mind by Brian MacDonald as a soloist and the youngest member of the Master Class. Her history as a young working dancer informs her teaching and approach to teaching the whole child.
As a member of the Minnesota Dance Theater, Minneapolis, Ms. Smythe performed roles in major works such as George Balanchine's Concerto Barocco and Serenade along with the contemporary works of Director Loyce Houlton. It was in Minneapolis that Ms. Smythe became engaged by the Young Audiences program. She performed Little Red Riding Hood from The Sleeping Beauty and the Peasant Pas de Deux from Giselle for tens of thousands of Minnesota children during the school year as a touring member of MDT, a formative experience.
Ms. Smythe continued to train and merge her work into the theater, beginning with the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis and eventually in New York, appearing on television in soap operas and commercials while dancing and training with Richard Thomas (U.S. Terpsichore). She moved to Los Angeles where she appeared in Bob Dylan's Tarantula (directed by Darrell Larson), a performance piece that incorporated dance, theater and video.
Once again, the stages of elementary schools called, and in 1988, with Jodi Wintz of the Joffrey Ballet, Ms. Smythe co-choreographed and performed a condensed version of Cinderella, touring throughout Los Angeles county for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Los Angeles Music Center. Concurrently, she served as Principal Ballet Instructor at the Santa Monica Dance Theater. It was this experience that made evident the disctiction between the Arts Education that children could receive during a one-time visit to their schools and the deep involvement that so many of those young audiences craved. Ms. Smythe decided to devote her life to continuing public school out-reach, while providing IN-reach to those children who had a deep interest in becoming dancers so that they could receive the best possible training at an early age and become expert themselves (regardless of the ability to pay).
A native Memphian, Katie returned to the city in 1997 after honing her teaching skills, studying intensively in the professional class of Christina Bernal alongside dancers from American Ballet Theater, Joffrey, Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp and New York City Ballet. (Ms. Bernal is known for her work with numerous principal dancers as a recuperative coach and re-constructor of technique, facilitating the return of seriously injured dancers.)
Recognizing the need throughout Memphis to bring the highest level of excellence to young people without regard to socio-economic class, Ms. Smythe founded the Buckman Performing Arts Ballet Program at St. Mary's School. As the program opened up to the community, she identified a location in Midtown Memphis (2002) where a culture of of mutual respect and multi-culturalism could flourish. In 2003, the non-profit was founded.
In 2006, New Ballet Ensemble and School, a Community Arts Education program offering professional opportunities to graduates and reaching children from all areas of the community, opened at 2157 York in a beautifully renovated warehouse, now a state-of-the-art community dance center and Arts Education facility, just south of Central Avenue and accessible to many.
Ms. Smythe is responsible for the day-to-day operations of New Ballet. She also serves as the Principal Teaching Artist, instructing young dancers daily in the studios and training Teaching Artists in the Bernal Technique as one of three sanctioned Bernal teachers in the world. Smythe's professional relationships established throughout the years come to realization in the lives of students.
Mentors and teachers travel to Memphis on a regular basis to enrich the training at New Ballet. Those gifted dancers include (among others) Blakeley White McGuire of the Martha Graham Company; Francesca Harper, formerly of the Frankfurt Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem; Elizabeth Corbett formerly of the Frankfurt and Joffrey Ballets; Uri Sands and Toni Pierce of TU Dance Minneapolis and formerly of the Alvin Ailey company; Sara Yarborough of the Ailey Company; and Christina Bernal, who is instrumental in teacher training and professional development at New Ballet.
Under Ms. Smythe’s leadership works collaboratively with numerous organizations including Dunbar Elementary School (seeded by the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis and now continued with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Briggs and Kite Foundations), Girls Inc., Shelby County Schools, Bartlett Elementary School, Streets Ministries, Binghampton Development Corporation, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Rhodes College, Opera Memphis, The Memphis Symphony Orchestra, the Levitt Shell, the Cannon Center, for the Performing Arts Germantown Performing Arts Center, Delta Arts in Crittenden County and more.
Ms. Smythe served on the Board of Directors of the Levitt Pavillion Memphis, the Board of Artistic Advisors to the Salvation Army Kroc Center, The City of Memphis Youth Guidance Commission and remains on the Cooper Young Business Association. She served on the Arts Education Panel as part of a Rhodes College educational psychology project and has three times won the Tennessee Governor's School award for excellence in teaching. She has been a speaker and presenter at the National Arts Marketing conference, speaking to the New Ballet program model. In 2010, New Ballet was selected by NBC and the TODAY show as one of five recipients of the Lend a Hand series which looks to recognize highly effective but "under the radar" non-profits. New Ballet was selected specifically for it's work in Arts Education that bridges socio-economic class, race and gender. She has been trained in Ruby Payne's Bridges Out of Poverty and Breaking the Cycle of Poverty.
Ms. Smythe's choreographic works are informed by the artists on whom they are created and are almost all collaborative; these include The Swan© (in collaboration with Lil Buck) and The Nut ReMix®. In 2014, New Ballet Ensemble was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center and National Symphony Orchestra for New Moves: Symphony + Dance. Heralded in the Washington Post , critics wrote, "Smythe's Harlem was a riot of imagination and color, a powerful memorable conclusion". – DanceTabs
New Ballet Ensemble is a member of the National Guild Community Schools of the Arts where Ms. Smythe serves on the Board of Trustees and has led the Dance Round Table (Boston 2011, Dallas 2012 and Chicago, 2013). She plays an active role in Americans for the Arts and the Arts Action Fund.
She is a 2016 Scholar at the Aspen Institute Ideas Fest.