‘American Circus’ a Ballet Memphis performance based on a Memphis classic

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — If your favorite part of the Pink Palace Museum as a kid was watching Clyde Park's Miniature Circus, Ballet Memphis has a show made for you.

Ballet Memphis will adapt Clyde Parke's Miniature Circus into a performance at their upcoming show "Small Places" on Feb. 16.

Ballet Master Brian McSween was asked to create a show based on Parke's hand-made mechanical creation by the company's artistic directors a little more than a year ago.

"What I've done is taken a story, a narrative, and put that in the context of a circus and used characters from that circus, from the Clyde Parke's circus, within the narrative to tell a story," McSween said.

McSween says he started his journey on Google but was later connected with the Pink Palace after they announced the restoration of the circus.

It allowed him the ability to see it personally, take pictures and really be inspired by the detailed work Parke did on the circus.

"What's amazing, is it's just the tip of the iceberg," Mcsween said. "The amount of work and investment that he put into it is really amazing, and it just gives you a whole new appreciation when you go in and you see that circus. You see the details."

McSween says as he took that inspiration and began looking for music for the piece he came across the composer William Grant Still, a Southerner and the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra in the Deep South, New York  and California

Still's music is used for the entire performance and McSween says he's "excited to use” it.

With the music in place shaping the narrative and a style for the set, it was time to put all of it together.

McSween says the story is about communities that often bring positive and negative impacts to lives and that through unconditional love, relationships in communities can be restored and strengthened.

He hopes the audience enjoys the show, is inspired and has the opportunity to process the questions that are presented on the stage.

"My job as an artist and as a creator of art is to provide a context for people to respond and a context not for me to dictate what they should think but to allow them the opportunity to think and enjoy the process of that thinking," McSween said.

"Small Places" begins Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. and goes through Feb. 18 at Playhouse on the Square.  Saturday's matinee show is a pay what you can community day.

You can get tickets on the Ballet Memphis website.

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