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Spring to Dance
Touhill Performing Arts Center
St. Louis, MO
May 21–23, 2009
Reviewed by Wendy Perron
The Slaughter Project in their rough-hewn cyclone of energy, Grid. Photo by David Marchant, courtesy Dance St. Louis.
We don’t usually think of the Midwest as a hotbed of dance activity. But Michael Uthoff, artistic director of Dance St. Louis, showed an exhilarating range of dance. He packed 30 companies—only a handful of which are from outside the Midwest—into three days. Just like Fall for Dance at City Center, the tickets cost only $10, and audiences cheered for many performances.
In a miracle of programming, each of the 10 pieces the last night of the festival was vivid, and none meandered aimlessly. The early set, at the intimate Lee Theater, had a cozy, college-y feel, with works ranging from mild to ingenious to galvanizing. It opened with Lane Alexander’s gentle Prisms performed by Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which ramped it up for Glorious by Tre Dumas. Clapping and body percussion provided a rousing finale. Also from Chicago came Lucky Plush Productions with their clever Memory Mash-Up by director Julia Rhoads. Six young women finished each others’ sentences about their college dance experiences. They studded their dancing with iconic moments from Revelations, Apollo, and Clytemnestra. They quizzed each other. During a high-stepping march, one said, “This feels like Balanchine.” Another replied: “It’s Tere O’Connor.”
Two groups hailed from Missouri. In Grid, the rough-hewn cyclone of energy by Cecil Slaughter for his St. Louis-based Slaughter Project, a diverse group of 18 dancers (some of them students from Washington University) strutted, pounced, and leapt at each other. The more polished William/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, based in Kansas City, concluded the segment with Shapiro and Smith’s well-crafted To Have and To Hold. Nine dancers draped over, slid on, and dived between three benches.
The larger Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall hosted the most seasoned performance: It All, danced by the still meltingly lovely Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons jr from Paradigm. The duet, by Dwight Rhoden, gave a sense of a man and woman traveling on a train, reaching out—for what? Their past? Each other? A better life? In any case, to a song by Bjork, it was quite moving.
The most dramatic moment came via MADCO in a large group piece called Fracture, choreographed by Limón dancer John Beasant III. A cast of nine involved in fraught encounters came to a halt when a man and a woman stopped dead in their tracks and confronted each other. The atmosphere was so charged that you didn’t know whether they were about to kill or kiss.
Though Trey McIntyre has an appealing way of subverting expectations, his Barramundi is not one of his best pieces. The joke of men in skirts wore thin. The six dancers of Ballet Memphis, inexplicably sporting raccoon eyes, were crisp, strong, and technically assured.
The mixed-ability company Dancing Wheels brought Dianne McIntyre’s Sweet Radio Radicals, a picturesque gathering around an old family radio. We heard iconic songs from the past including Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” during which one wheelchair-bound performer glided exultantly. Another great moment was when all five performers lined up for Buffy Sainte-Marie's chilling “Universal Soldier.” Just seeing the two disabled performers among the three dancers, all looking unflinchingly ahead, brought to mind fallen soldiers. This was a fully realized dance-theater piece.
Hubbard Street 2 contributed Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Stand Back, an elaborate mating dance for three women and three men. The bare-chested men began arched on the floor while the women, regal in red velvet dresses, danced with a flamenco-like pride and snap. With a percussive score by Nandon Weisz, the momentum picked up until finally the men and women landed on the floor together—inevitably.
A definite highpoint was BalletMet Columbus’ duet Call It Off. Talking his way into a ridiculous excuse to his wife about why he wasn’t on time (“my pants split from front to back”), Jimmy Orrante was hilarious. And when he started to move in Harrison McEldowney’s choreography, he got even funnier. As he veered between a brash oddball and a contrite puppy dog, his recklessness was irresistible.