This weekend's Masterworks Concerts by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra is something to dance about.
Leonard Bernstein's "On the Town" gets a particularly vivid treatment with a collaboration among the MSO, Ballet Memphis and the U-Dig Dance Academy.
For Rafael Ferreras of Ballet Memphis, who is directing the choreography, it's been about finding a synergy between classical ballet and the jookin' styles prominent at U-Dig.
"We don't want to make it jookers over here and ballet dancers over there, coming from two separate worlds," he says. "We want to incorporate it so the dancing they do and the dancing we do meshes and makes a different kind of dance."
The MSO has worked with U-Dig and Ballet Memphis before, but this blending takes it a leap further.
"This collaboration is definitely groundbreaking," says Tarrik Moore, CEO and founder of U-Dig. "It's the fusion of the symphony, ballet and Memphis jookin' coming together."
Jookin', with its distinctive urban style, has become a cross-cultural dance phenomenon. Memphian Charles 'Lil-Buck' Riley, who has danced with the New Ballet Ensemble and U-Dig, had one of his performances go viral on YouTube and has since worked with Madonna and Yo-Yo Ma. Watching his moves, it's easy to see how a fusion of styles could come about.
"Tarrik has talked to us about the jookin' thing and what it means to codify a movement vocabulary," says Dorothy Gunther Pugh, founding artistic director and CEO of Ballet Memphis.
They've been working to document what changes in kinesiology and the physics of movement, producing, Moore says, a syllabus that serves as a comparative analysis of Memphis jookin' and classical ballet.
Bringing this sort of collaboration to the Masterworks series is also crucial to the MSO's community outreach efforts. U-Dig did excerpts from "The Nutcracker" at December's "Home for the Holidays" pops concert and was featured in the memorable Opus One performance with rapper Al Kapone at the New Daisy.
The MSO is, as usual, doing two performances, one on Saturday and the other Sunday, but the dancers will perform only at Saturday night's concert.
Meanwhile, the rest of the program also has dance themes. Beethoven's Twelve Contredanses and Florence Price's "Dances in the Canebrakes" are scheduled. In addition, the orchestra will perform Beethoven's powerful and popular Seventh Symphony.
Memphis Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Concerts
Conducted by Mei-Ann Chen, featuring Ballet Memphis and U-Dig Dance Academy (Saturday only). 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts, 255 N. Main. Tickets: $15-$85 (students $5).
2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Germantown Performing Arts Center, 1801 Exeter. Tickets: $45. Go to memphissymphony.org, or call 901-537-2525