Michael’s Travels

Michael’s travels, a bit like Gulliver’s travels, have taken me through highways and airports in search of the dance we cherish.

A few weeks ago I drove to Chicago to view an exciting performance of three major works from my favorite living choreographer, Jiri Kylian, danced by Hubbard Street. It was an exciting evening of fabulous dance showcasing three different periods of the artist’s creative life. One could settle for one or the other and be marveled that it came from the same individual. It is nice to see our choreographers evolve, to see the growth at Hubbard, and to know how our audiences have clamored for them. I am hoping to have them be part of our 50th anniversary season.

I was also fortunate enough to catch a performance of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre from Taiwan, a company that captures images that haunt the soul and mind. They have been on my radar for years and somehow our paths have never crossed. The performance was a major theatrical achievement that required incredible concentration and commitment from the dancers as well as the audience, who, once the piece concluded left the theatre feeling special.

Back in St. Louis I saw the birth of Dawn Karlovsky’s new company, a valiant effort that needs to be supported and encouraged as she is a gifted performer with creative ideas. As a young enterprise it gave us good first steps and I look forward to seeing how she is able to convey her own dancing qualities and vision to her dancers to build a solid company.

Rushing back and forth, I packed again and flew to Miami where I represented Webster University in a recruiting effort but also searched for companies of the region to come to Dance St. Louis’ SPRING TO DANCE® FESTIVAL. It was an exhausting weekend as the festival had over 1,200 high school students from all over the country participating and thirsting for knowledge. I was honored to be asked to give a lecture, with my friend and colleague Daniel Lewis, on the legacy of Martha Hill, founder and developer of the Juilliard School of Music Dance Department and teach two ballet master classes. I was thrilled with the process and delighted to perhaps have given something to the students who amazed everyone with their talent. I am glad I am not a dancer today. Wow, such talent. I was also able to see two interesting groups that will surely be presented to you before too long, Dance Now Miami and Ballet Flamenco La Rosa. Yet the highlight of the performance was the dancing of two former students of New World School of the Arts and present members of the Martha Graham Dance Company, Masha Dashkina Maddux and Lloyd Knight. Those of you who attended the Graham company’s performance in St. Louis saw them dance. They have matured to become truly magnificent artists.

So, the quest and search for dance continues. As I discover and am thrilled, I plan to bring them to you. Life is good.

Chicago Sights & Diavolo This Weekend

I just returned from 48 hours in Chicago immersed in dance. It was nice to escape St. Louis and surround myself with individuals that do what we do to share ideas, compare notes and view work with different eyes.

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Compagnie Käfig in “AGWA”

Compagnie Käfig and The Joffrey Ballet were the two major attractions I saw and each, with a different point of view, was exciting. Compagnie Käfig with its sophisticated Hip Hop based language surprised everyone, especially with their work AGWA. The Joffrey Ballet, following in the tradition of their founders, Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino with Ashley Wheater pushing the envelope, presented three varied and exciting works. Each piece had its appeal to me, one more than the others, but what was fascinating to appreciate was the versatility and commitment of the dancers to all these new works. The audience was also taken by it all.

I also saw part of a Master Class by Kyle Abrahams, a distinct new voice in the dance world. He is a charming and talented young man which we hope to bring to St. Louis to create on our companies. I could not stay for the entire thing as I had scheduled myself too tight, but I understand that what I missed was superb.

Conversations with Julie Nakagawa and Andreas Böttcher of DanceWorks Chicago and Liz Silverstein of Siegel Artist Management, made for heated discussions, lots of laughs, and a greater understanding of the art form, reassuring us all that we are in the right place doing the right thing.

So, scarf around my neck, hat on my head, and gloves on my hands, I braved the cold wind of Chicago on Sunday morning. I stood on the platform waiting for the Orange Line to take me to Midway so Southwest Airlines could get me to St. Louis, where the excitement of what is to happen this weekend began to build.

Dance St. Louis, Diavolo, Transit Space, photo by Julie Shelton2DIAVOLO, having just returned from an incredibly successful tour of Australia, is about to burst into town. Their creativity, physicality, and vibrancy will rock us all I can’t wait! Hope you will join us Friday, February 28th and Saturday, March 1st at the Touhill.

The Athletes of Diavolo

Dance St. Louis, Diavolo, Transit Space, photo by Ben GibbsWhat great timing! Here we are watching the Winter Olympics, marveling at the beauty and sophistication of Figure Skating and the devil-may-care attitude of Giant Slalom, Snowboarding, and Ski Jumping. All of these athletic feats are a warm-up to watching DIAVOLO showcase all of these qualities in a performance that has conquered the spirit and emotions of audiences all over the world.

Diavolo Dance TheaterThe dancer athletes will propel themselves around the stage while creating unimaginable beauty and defying gravity. Watch the Olympics, and then grab the phone to purchase your tickets to this incredible event (314.534.6622).

Join us as we marvel the human body and the limits it can propel itself to. See you at the Touhill February 28 and March 1, 2014.

Wizard of Oz starring Ballet Memphis

It is not always that in dance you marvel at the beauty of simplicity, but this was the case in Ballet Memphis’ version of the Wizard of Oz.

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Free Speaking of Dance with Michael Uthoff and Wizard of Oz choreographer Steven McMahon

Devoid of any ostentatious scenery and costumes, with a small group of committed dancers and a choreographer that went to his youthful roots to device a charming evening of dance, a magical production ensued that captivated children and adults alike. The narrative line was pretty close to the movies’ and therefore everyone could follow without problems.

I did feel that the opening scene was somewhat weak and though the Tornado was cleverly dealt with, it was the one moment that more should have happened. It is possible that Ballet Memphis took for granted everyone’s knowledge of the story, and therefore I was interested to see how people would respond to the ongoings if unfamiliar with the plot line.  I think some audience members could not totally define the plot as I was doing and perhaps their enjoyment was not as great.

The company presented two casts of Dorothy’s and Witches and each brought a different quality to the work. One could choose one over the other, but I do not think it would be fair.

Virginia Pilgrim and Dylan G-Bowley of Ballet Memphis

Virginia Pilgrim and Dylan G-Bowley of Ballet Memphis

The Young People’s Performance and the Matinee, both filled to the brim had kids smiling ear to ear and parents proud for having made the decision to bring them to the BALLET. Many chose to dress like one of their favorite characters and that added a special feeling to those of us standing at intermission watching the crowds.

As Toto went on the ride to Oz inside of Dorothy’s basket, I was hoping that as total surprise to the audience, when she “landed” back in Kansas and came out of the house, Toto would run from the wing and leap unto her arms. But, not every dance company can travel with a trained dog.

Now, we look forward to seeing Ballet Memphis in May at our 7th Annual SPRING TO DANCE® FESTIVAL 2014. They will be closing our Thursday evening show (May 22, 2014) and all those who became their friends in route to OZ should welcome them as they return to the Touhill.

Diavolo and Alvin Ailey are still to grace our stage, what a treat awaits! Don’t miss either of them.

November Performances

Two weeks ago I attended MADCO’s fall presentation, an ambitious program with three world premieres. I thought each work challenged the dancers to move in a specific way and they met the challenge. However, I was not taken by any of the works specifically. Much too often their works fall in the trap of having everyone dancing all the time which does not allow for dramatic continuity and aside from costuming them differently, they start looking alike.  I thought James Robey’s work had interesting tensions that should be explored further, though the use of a central character seemed to create certain expectations that were not totally resolved. Two other works founded up the program. One was a repeat of  “Land’s Edge,” a PILOBOLUS work that was gifted to them as part of New Dance Horizons II. It was the strongest of all the works and it was great to see the dancers perform it at  a higher level of intensity as well as a better physical and intellectual understanding than they had in October. The repeating of works is vital for their growth and the dancers’ development, but we often tend to simply move on and create more new works for the sake of newness.

This past weekend I attended the Ovation Series that Charlie Robin manages at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University. He brought a marvelous group of 13 men from Argentina performing in “Che Malambo.”  The show was approximately 90 minutes of high34143_404206562361_7122067_n power machismo, foot stopping, bolas flying and sheer fun entertainment that had the audience cheering their approval.  The 13 men of various physical stature that presented a harmonious evening of stylized Argentinean folk must have been exhausted when the show finally concluded.

What I am really fascinated by is the wealth of world class dance that people in St. Louis have at their fingers tips and seemingly do not take advantage of. In a city the size of ours, the dance performances that both the Edison Ovation Series and Dance St. Louis offer give our city an incredible showcase of the art form. For simply 8 or 9 evenings a year, you will have seen close to 36 dance events in 4 years — to be able to catch and admire that many performances, you would have had to travel the world and pay 3 times as much.

I am thrilled that what the Edison Ovation Series and Dance St. Louis do compliment each other. And do not think it happens by chance, Charlie and I do correspond and exchange plans for the future so as to do exactly that, enhance the audience going to experience dance.

Shanghai Ballet

A week has gone by since our friends from Shanghai Ballet arrived in town. After riding a bus for over four hours from Overland Park, KS where they had been performing the night before, they looked amazingly fresh when I peeked at them in company class. One thing that they truly where was hungry. Per their request, we provided them an authentic Chinese dinner and needless to say, little to nothing was left once they got through with it. And that seemed to be the theme for the 2 days and 3 performances they gave.

Extremely well trained, slender, disciplined and focused dancers embarked on the three performances of “The Butterfly Lovers.” This sumptuous production of a well known Chinese story was brought to life through inventive and creative choreography in very simple and direct terms that endeared the audiences who remained attentive throughout the performance and exploded into warm and thunderous applause when the last step was delivered. Watching them glide through the steps with complete assurance gave me a great appreciation for what Xin Lili, the Artistic Director of the Shanghai Ballet, has achieved and developed within the institution. Their path seems to be the right one for such a company and their future looks bright.

No sooner than when the third show came to an end that a final reception was held in their honor and food was gobbled one more time. After smiles and new friends made, the dancers had to file onto the bus to catch a few hours of sleep before heading, at 7 AM the next morning, to Memphis, Tennessee for a 3 o’clock show. Oh to be young again!

IMG_0311For me it was a special three days as I renewed friendships with individuals that are now guiding the dancers, like Xin Lili and Ming, who I had worked with as dancers as far back as 1986. Our smiles of recognition showed the loving nature that that experience was. Our miming of conversation made us all laugh. Photos were taken and soon Facebook was carrying them around the globe and beautiful messages from other dancers involved in those days of ‘86 starting sending comments. It was a precious and dear time and we said good bye hoping that the next time we saw each other would not be 27 years later.

Safe journeys Shanghai Ballet

Shanghai Ballet This Weekend

Dance St. Louis, Shanghai Ballet, The Butterfly Lovers, winterWhat a unique opportunity lies ahead for all of us! Our friends from China, Shanghai to be specific, are arriving in town following fantastic reviews and commentaries from all of the cities they have already toured. Having worked with them in the 80’s and the 90’s, I have a special place in my heart for them as individuals. Xin LiLi, Artistic Director and Choreographer of “The Butterfly Lovers,” the Chinese version of “Romeo and Juliet,” was one of the leading dancers in a couple of the works I staged in Shanghai when working with them.

Shanghai Ballet’s work should appeal to all, the color and texture of their approach to dance is uniquely theirs. Their Dance St. Louis, Shanghai Ballet, The Butterfly Lovers, butterfly linetraining is also superb and because of their vision they do so with special sensibilities. This large production, with over 50 dancers on stage, fulfills all the wants of those desiring full length works.

This show should bring hundreds of families to enjoy a masterful work beautifully performed. Do not miss it if you are in St. Louis this upcoming weekend, November 8 and 9, 2013 at the Touhill.