Spring to Dance the place to be for Memorial Day in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS, MO — Apparently the Touhill Performing Arts Center is the place to be on Memorial Day weekend in St. Louis.  I expected a pretty good line-up of mostly regional and a few national companies; what I didn’t expect is the droves of people that come out for this event.  Folks practically climb over each other, not unlike the $99 sale at David’s Bridal, to pack into the more intimate Lee Theater for the 6 p.m. show, and the late show stuffs the 1625-seat Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall to the gills.

This festival is a bit mind boggling to me.  I guess I’ve gotten more accustomed to seeing low-budget, avant garde Chicago dance, since the Touhill’s Spring to Dance festival — which, essentially, is a really great marketing tool for its regular performance season — is reminding me what slews of lovely, trained, classical dancers look like.  With the lineup being primarily “trad” (as my friend Sid Yiddish might say), in the first two days I’ve seen ballet, tap, “contemporary”, and fusion genres of any of these three…. but I have yet to see something truly weird.  Pilobolus comes close, what with the contortions and the thong-clad dancers sitting on one anothers’ heads (which you instantly forgive them for on account of their brilliance).  Despite all the unitards and slick backed buns, what struck me the most of the first two days were a duo from Minneapolis who call themselves Sossy Mechanics.  Technically a theater group, Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan presented a delightful adaptation of their Trick Boxing that was captivating, smart, and laugh out loud funny.  Sostek and McClellan were a welcome relief from all the angsty, traditional modern dance I’ve seen the past two days.

Speaking of angsty, I can’t pass on the opportunity to comment on the two magnificent duets brought by Ballet X.  Among the plethora of other duets so far in the festival (because, you know, it’s cheaper to tour a duet than a group piece), X’s It’s Not A Cry brought me to my feet for the first time in ages.  This company’s interpretation of the sometimes confused and rarely effective emergence of contemporary ballet is exquisite, and the whole package of technical panache, innovative choreography, subtle costuming and brilliant lighting made for an evening I won’t soon forget.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance critic, contributing to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Magazine. She is senior editor of See Chicago Dance. Lauren covers dance across the Midwest and writes regularly for Dance Magazine and Pointe with additional bylines in Milwaukee Magazine, St. Louis Magazine and Dance Teacher. Forthcoming publications include essays on ballet training in Chicago (University of Illinois Press) and Shirley Mordine (University of Akron Press). In 2020, Lauren published an opinion piece on the impact of COVID-19 on the arts in the South African journal Agenda. Lauren holds degrees in dance and kinesiology and has presented research on dance training practices at the National Dance Education Organization and the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. She has co-facilitated critical dance writing intensives in Chicago and Durban, South Africa, and participated in writing residencies at the National Center for Choreography, Bates Dance Festival and JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Experience. Lauren teaches dance history and kinesiology for dancers, with part-time appointments at Loyola University Chicago and Illinois Wesleyan University.