Ballet Memphis is a true (and much needed) role model for celebrating diversity in dance. In the second of two programs presented at The Joyce Theater, the company showed a variety of styles ranging from Memphis Jookin’, a form of street dancing, to a contemporary ballet. Two of the works were created by company members. As a group, the dancers vary from quite short to fairly tall and while all are very fit, they contrast from slim to powerful in build. This company seems to be hiring dancers primarily because they are compelling performers as they all seemed to be fully engaged, all the time. Ballet Memphis is creating its own identity by working with local artists, musicians, in-house choreographers and thematic programs that keep the focus primarily local.

Confluence, by company member Steven McMahon, featured the company in gospel mode. It was warm and friendly, but overall seemed lacking in development of its choreographic ideas. There was entirely too much of dancers running across the stage and off the other side for no particular reason. Other than the lovely opening solo by Virginia Pilgrim Ramey, the best part of this work was the male trio that allowed the men to dance in a loose style that celebrated the accompanying gospel music. Bruce Bui, who does most of the company’s costume designs, did fine work here with flowing dresses for the women.

Water of the Flowery Mill, the strongest work of the show, is Matthew Neenan’s tribute to the painter Arshile Gorky. Neenan’s work is now seen in a lot of companies as his commissions have grown and this piece is one of the most successful that I’ve seen. He’s avoided the overt and occasionally extravagant emotionalism that sometimes detracts from his choreography in this piece. It is focused instead on interesting combinations of dancers and is more centered on the music. His dance patterns followed Tchaikovsky’s music and indulged in some sheer, flying joy. It was the most technically demanding and balletic of the evening’s works and the company handled it with ease.

In Devil’s Fruit, set to different renderings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, choreographer Julia Adam paid tribute to the earthy, transformational power of mushrooms – including the psychedelic ones. Adam’s frequent collaborator Christine Darch’s costumes were especially effective in a range of champignon colors and the grassy mound that transformed into a dress was strikingly original. A duet with Hideko Karasawa and Travis Bradley was evocative, sensuous and touching.

The show closer was Politics by company dancer Rafael Ferreras. It wasn’t especially political but it was lots of fun as it joined together four of Ballet Memphis’ classically trained women with four female guest artists who are proficient in the art of Memphis Jookin’, a style of dance that features a lot of isolation movement creating a lively, disjointed quality to the movement. There was plenty of dancing that highlighted the differences between the two styles but the atmosphere on stage was much more collegial than the program notes suggested. They moved in and out of a business style setting with a table and chairs, taking turns owning the stage, until the end when they took off their shoes and danced together. The dancers clearly hold one another in high regard and it’s easy to imagine them watching and copying each other’s moves in rehearsal. Adding to the fun of this piece was the onstage presence of six terrific vocalists from the Hattiloo Theatre of Memphis. This is a unique piece and on this company it is a show closer.

Ballet Memphis is more about being a Memphis dance troupe than an international style company. It is proudly and unapologetically itself without pretension. You’re not going to get any Balanchine or homogenous classical ballets that typify the repertory (as can been seenin larger companies) but you really don’t want that from them when they can do all these other interesting things. Drawing on the local community for inspiration makes them a tremendous asset to the people of Memphis and suggests a path for other smaller companies that seek an authentic and ultimately more significant artistic expression of their own.