Spring to Dance springs back for another year

May 19, 2011
STL Today
Calvin Wilson


Like a dancer who puts in the time and energy necessary to successfully pursue her art, the Spring to Dance Festival is in good shape. On second thought, make that great shape.

Established in 2008, the three-day event presented by Dance St. Louis has gained solid footing as a Memorial Day weekend attraction. In these economically uncertain times — particularly for the arts — that's no small achievement.

Returning for its fourth edition next week at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, the festival will maintain its Midwestern focus while also showcasing performers from such far-flung places as New York, Los Angeles and Madrid, Spain. And the ticket price is still $10 a night, as it has been since the beginning.

With each year, word about Spring to Dance is spreading in the dance community, says Michael Uthoff, executive and artistic director of Dance St. Louis. And the word is good.

“The quality of the applicants is a lot greater,” he says. “What’s been really exciting for me is for audiences to come out and see unusual things and be absolutely thrilled by them.”

As in previous years, the festival will feature more than 30 companies, presented in either the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall or the smaller, more intimate Lee Theater. Among the more notable ensembles in this year’s lineup are Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Joffrey Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and the Martha Graham Dance Company. Most of the companies representing the Midwest are based in the St. Louis area (such as MADCO) or Chicago (such as the Joffrey).

Some of the acts were invited to the festival, Uthoff says, but most secured their slots through a judging process that included submitting videos. This year’s judges included two dance presenters in Portland, Ore., an agent in Canada and a dance educator in Mexico.

Among the returning companies is Dancing Wheels, which involves dancers with and without disabilities. The company will perform “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” a piece choreographed by Uthoff. It’s one of three world premieres at this year’s festival; the others are Natya Dance Theatre’s “Interior Landscapes” and Dance Theatre of Harlem’s “Sketches.”

Of particular interest is the Dance Theatre of Harlem premiere. The company is in a period of transition, Uthoff says.

“The company folded some years ago and went into restructuring,” he says. “Little by little, they’ve been bringing it back together.”