By Calvin Wilson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Dance is perhaps the most breathtaking of the lively arts. For those who appreciate the art form, its very wordlessness is a blessing in an increasingly noisy world.
But for some folks, dance is a perplexing puzzle. That’s understandable: The movement in modern dance and ballet can be at once exhilarating and indecipherable. But true dance fans would argue that not everything has to be spelled out — especially if it’s spellbinding.
Bringing a wider audience to serious dance is the mission of the Spring to Dance Festival, which debuted in 2008 and has become a St. Louis Memorial Day weekend tradition. On Friday, the event returns to the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, with more than 25 local and national ensembles performing on two stages over three evenings.
With its ninth edition, the fest continues to present both old favorites and new faces, says Michael Uthoff, artistic director of Dance St. Louis. One of the keys to its success, he says, is its timing.
“I think the Memorial Day weekend works,” Uthoff says. “There is competition, yes, but there are also a lot of people who want to see different things — and we provide something different.”
The festival has fulfilled his goal of securing a higher profile for dance in St. Louis, he says: “The whole dance scene looks a lot stronger than it did 10 years ago.”
Until recently, Uthoff was also executive director of Dance St. Louis but has retired from that position. He says the future of his involvement with the festival and the New Dance Horizons program that showcases local companies is under discussion.
The festival “requires a great deal of knowledge in dance to make it work,” Uthoff says.
Here are three performances worth checking out.
Owen/Cox Dance Group
Originally conceived as a showcase for collaborations between choreographer Jennifer Owen and her husband, composer Brad Cox, the Kansas City ensemble Owen/Cox Dance Group has in recent years expanded its scope. Last year, on a program at Johnson County Community College, the company performed a work by nationally known choreographer Kate Skarpetowska.
Owen/Cox Dance Group will reprise that piece, called “La Locura,” at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall.
“It’s a beautiful piece for five dancers,” Owen says. “The music is Spanish baroque, performed by Jordi Savall and his ensemble. It’s recorded music, but it’s absolutely gorgeous. And the dancing reflects the gorgeousness.”
The mood of “La Locura,” she says, is “somber but also uplifting and hopeful” as it deals with “human relationships and how people interact.” Skarpetowska will be familiar to St. Louis dance fans from her piece “A Mariner,” which the Big Muddy Dance Company performed in the New Dance Horizons program at the Touhill in 2014. With “La Locura,” Owen says, the choreographer “really does a beautiful job with patterns — bodies intertwining and linking. It’s really quite stunning to see.” Owen/Cox Dance Group will begin its 10th season in the fall.
“As we grew, we started reaching out to other music ensembles,” Owen says. “So the collaborations became broader. But our mission has stayed the same: to present original dance and music.”
Owen continues to dance with the company, “but not in all of the performances, particularly when I’m choreographing. And I’m not performing in Kate’s piece.
“When I’m choreographing,” Owen says, “I’ve discovered that if I can step back and see the picture without my being in it, the work is much stronger.”
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