Meet me in St. Louis
A new Midwestern dance festival skims the cream from Chicago's crop.
If you’re wondering why there aren’t many dance performances in Chicago this weekend, here’s why: The dancers are in St. Louis. Thodos Dance Chicago, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Momenta, Hedwig Dances, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Natya Dance Theatre, River North Chicago Dance Company, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Lucky Plush Productions (of which I am a member) and Hubbard Street 2 are appearing in the Spring to Dance Festival, taking place Thursday through Saturday at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.
“We want to showcase as many Midwestern companies as possible,” says Michael Uthoff, the artistic and executive director of Dance St. Louis, which produces the event, now in its second year. Including the 10 from Chicago, 30 companies from the region will perform in the fest. “There is so much very good dancing and choreography outside of the [dance] mecca of Manhattan,” he says. “You don’t have to be from New York to be good.”
Uthoff knows what he’s talking about. During his long career, he’s watched dance-as-art burgeon throughout the country. He spent the 1960s in New York as a principal dancer with Joffrey Ballet and in 1972 established the Hartford Ballet in Connecticut when there wasn’t much going on in the “provinces,” he says. When he took the position at Dance St. Louis in 2006, Uthoff says, he “was quite astounded at the quality” of Midwest dance.
“I felt I should showcase this work,” Uthoff says, “so the people in the area can see and enjoy it.” He also hopes that presenters (entities that book dance companies) and funders will take advantage of the chance to see so many troupes at once. Last year, reps from several foundations—including the National Endowment for the Arts—attended. “It’s a great way for presenters to view [the companies] in fantastic surroundings,” Uthoff says. The Touhill Center boasts two state-of-the art theaters, one larger and another more intimate.
Uthoff also hopes that Spring to Dance will foster more dialogue among the dance companies themselves. “Last year, Laurie Eisenhower [from Detroit] was invited to choreograph a work for BalletMet [from Columbus, Ohio],” he says. That work will premiere in November in Columbus (more info at balletmet.org).
Although Spring to Dance is only in its second year, it’s poised to be an annual affair. Audiences flock to the performances—for $10 per evening, the price is right and the offerings are generous. Each night, the fest gets moving at 5pm when St. Louis–area arts groups take over the center’s lobby. At 6pm, a performance with first-come, first-served seating takes place in the 350-seat Lee Theater, and at 7:30pm there’s a second show with reserved seating in the 1,625-seat Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. The $10-per-night ticket covers the whole shebang. If you need to stretch out and unwind afterward, for an extra $5 you can mix and mingle with the dancers at an after-party that includes regular old boogie-down dancing and a cash bar. Local hotels offer rooms for as little as $55 per night.
With proper support, the fest will undoubtedly grow and evolve. There is no shortage of dance companies vying for spots on the roster: Uthoff says last year there were 80 applications. Adjudicators in Miami, San Francisco and Salt Lake City assist him in making the final decisions. As for one-third of the companies being from Chicago, Uthoff says: “I’m really excited about what you have there. It’s an incredible, vibrant dance scene with very good dancers.” Of course, you can see all these companies here at home, but if you want to take a little trip and see how we measure up with our neighbors, I’ll see you in St. Louis.
Spring to Dance takes place Thursday 21 through Saturday 23. For ticket purchase and hotel information, visit springtodance.com.