Dance Matters: How the Midwest Was Won

April 25, 2011

In a difficult economic climate, Dance St. Louis has just the ticket—the 4th annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival, co-presented with the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the University of Missouri—St. Louis campus. On May 26, 27, and 28, the Lee Theatre and the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall will each play host to a one-time-only performance, on which four to seven companies share the bill. The festival has welcomed dozens of dancers from 30 companies in a multitude of styles every year from its inception. In 2009, it acquired the subtitle “The Best of the Midwest and Beyond.” “Originally it was specifically for the Midwest,” says artistic director Michael Uthoff, “but the ‘Beyond’ gives it a more national flavor.”


This year, the “Beyond” includes Helios Dance Theater from Los Angeles, Brian Brooks Moving Company from New York, and flamenco dancer Paloma Gomez from Madrid. Viewers can also catch the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s BAM! tap ensemble and GroundWorks DanceTheater of Cleveland, while the Owen/Cox Dance Group of Kansas City, Missouri, features collaborations between dancers and musicians. An excerpt from The Ends of Love, this year’s offering by the Minneapolis-based Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, tackles the subject of human desire through highly physical dancing and hilarious theatrical encounters. Ballet Memphis will dance Being Here With Other People, choreographed by company member Steven McMahon. Other performers range from the 53-year-old Kansas City Ballet, who will bring Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, to the 1-year-old Chicago-based company The Massive, slated to dance director Kyle Vincent Terry’s Blood From a Turnip.


This display of variety and excellence—with a ticket price of just $10 per night—is helping Dance St. Louis reach two of its goals: introducing audiences to challenging work they might not ordinarily see, and giving Midwestern companies national visibility. It must be working. As one patron who traveled from Pittsburgh said, “I was shocked to see a full house on a Thursday evening. Clearly St. Louis embraces this festival!” St. Louis–based choreographer Dawn Karlovsky agrees. The festival has increased her visibility, and she is on the bill again this year. New performance opportunities have also opened up for the Detroit-based Eisenhower Dance Ensemble, a contemporary repertory company.


The dancers love to see each other’s work, and Spring to Dance motivates them to dance their best. Terry is thrilled about the good company The Massive will keep. “Our own cities can become insular with regard to actually developing our arts communities,” he says. “So when an opportunity to commune and exchange ideas with this many talented performers comes around, it’s a no-brainer. We plan to learn as much as possible—and steal some good moves,” he jokes.


“The festival reconnects us with old friends,” echoes Stacy West, who directs St. Louis’ Modern American Dance Company, or MADCO, which has appeared every year. “It also develops new relationships, the seeds for future collaborations.“


How does Dance St. Louis fund this ambitious festival? “This project has taken like wildfire,” says Uthoff. “Everybody got very excited about it. All of the direct expenses have been covered and we have grants from various sources.” However, this year the funding took a giant step forward. Emerson, a worldwide manufacturing and technology company with headquarters in St. Louis, agreed to donate $60,000 a year for three years for naming rights. Thus, the “Emerson” in the name of the festival—and greater stability.


Audience responses to Spring to Dance are all that Dance St. Louis could wish. The programming and ticket price encourage patrons to bring their children and entice others to attend. The dancers are happy to keep up with the demand. For a complete schedule of performances, see


Owen/Cox Dance Group, from Kansas City, performs on the final night of the Emerson Spring to Dance Festival. Photo by
Dan Wayne, Courtesy Spring to Dance