On April 9th and 10th at the Halloran Centre, New Ballet Ensemble will be hosting its annual Springloaded production. The show features a diverse repertoire choreographed by international artists, including Memphis-raised alumni, Maxx Reed and Briana Brown. They both trained at New Ballet during their youth and then served as teaching artists for the school. Now they are back as guest choreographers.
Maxx went on to dance in Broadway productions and national commercials, and Briana is pursuing a master’s in counseling while also inspiring professional dancers through original choreography.
They’re key examples of the talent coming out of Memphis who also continue to return home to nurture and inspire the next generation. We sat down with dancer, film director/editor Maxx to talk about his upbringing in Memphis, the influence New Ballet Ensemble & School has had on his career, and his work on Springloaded.
How did you get into and become so passionate about dance?
If you live in Memphis, you dance period. It’s a music-heavy city and dancing is just what we do. I spent a lot of time doing street dance stuff, like jookin and tumbling. One of my mentors was a man named Dwayne Hambrick who used to run a nonprofit arts school called Graffiti Playground where he essentially just gave us space to create. He wanted me to grow in [dance] different ways from just what I was doing and so he put me in contact with Katie Smythe [founded New Ballet Ensemble & School in 2002 to address the inequitable dance landscape existing in her hometown of Memphis.] Katie presented me the opportunity to expand my vocabulary into ballet at 12 or 13. It took me a minute to get into it, but Katie took me to see a show with some male ballet dancers, that blew my mind! Seeing a man be beautiful, elegant and strong made me change my perspective immediately.
How did the schooling at New Ballet Ensemble influence your career?
It was a little bit of everything. It gave me structure, it taught me a whole plethora of skills that I didn’t think I was going to have. For example, right now I’m both producing and directing a play in New York City, I’d never think I’d be doing that, but you learn the skill sets when running rehearsals and being given those opportunities and being in those spaces. I loved every second of having a dance studio at my disposal growing up. I wouldn’t change any second of it. New Ballet gave me the skills and toolkit.
What can people expect from this years’ Springloaded show?
It’s always been kind of my favorite show that they do each season because it can kind of just be a mixed bag of whatever the choreographers that are hired at the time, feel in the moment. What’s been interesting with this year’s Springloaded is that we’ve all been in lockdown. We’ve all experienced a lot of loss and our lives changed quite a bit, so I think a lot of the choreographers are responding to that. My piece entitled ‘luckily’ is very much about just taking agency back as a person. Springloaded has given me an opportunity for me to express things that I’ve been thinking about or things that I’m grateful for. And so I actually put a couple of movement call-outs to choreographers that have inspired me over the years. There’s a step in there from Chris Roberts who was sort of my hero at New Ensemble when I was a young dancer, there’s a step in there from Bob Fosse, there’s a step from Michael Jackson, there’s a step from Alvin Ailey… just little tiny moments that our call outs, but it’s mostly about self collaboration Even if somebody takes something from you, they can’t take you from you and that’s sort of like the whole purpose of it.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
When I was 18 I danced and sang in a television show on ABC called Dance War. I danced for Michael Jackson’s ‘This Is It’ show and that brought me out to L.A. I also danced for Usher for a little bit. I danced in a lot of music videos and commercials then. Eventually, I made it out to New York and played Spider-Man in the ‘Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark’ a Broadway Show. I have choreographed a couple of pieces of full-length musical theater and I choreographed for Mariah Carey’s Christmas Special she puts on annually, a few years back. I am directing my first nonmusical piece in May in New York called ‘Graceland’.