If we were to take a journey back in time, I can bet where most dancers and dance fans in St. Louis were around this time in recent years; we were all donning our tutus and tap shoes and piling into the streets of Downtown St. Louis for the ‘Dancin in the Streets’ Festival.
But no, not this year. It was decided that because St. Louis can’t afford to pay a major headlining company to come and perform, we should NOT divide that walloping budget amongst the talented professionals that already live here, provide performing opportunities for many local studios, and gather the dance community together for a free day of sharing. Nope, we should cancel the whole thing. Most tutus don’t come with pockets, and certainly not deep ones to store a surplus cash flow.
Thankfully, an alternative arose this year- a pointe-shoe-wearing phoenix from the ashes.
The Saint Charles Riverfront Arts organization presented the first ‘Riverfront Dance Festival’ on September 7th, 2014. This free, outdoor concert showcased a variety of dance forms, from ballet to hip hop, from a range of professional, pre-professional and student companies from the St. Louis and St. Charles areas.
Beyond the fact that it’s wonderful that dance concerts such as this exist, this one had a few features that compare favorably even to the beloved Dancin in the Streets. A few benefits of Riverfront Dance Festival:
- Parking around the streets of New Town is far easier than finding a spot somewhere on Grand
- The stage is located at the bottom of a grassy hill where audience members can sit on lawn chairs and blankets while enjoying the show
- A lovely air-conditioned room was provided for the dancers to warm-up and change into costumes. Gone are the days of walking around the Fox in your sparkle shorts and leotard looking like a confused homeless transplant from a 1920’s variety show (I know from experience)
- An announcer introduced each piece with a bit of information about the location and mission statement of each studio or company. It was nice to know who we were seeing and where to find them.
These were just a few highlights. On to the dancing…
I personally was not able to see the first half of the program as a group of students from Arts in Motion (one of the studios where I am teaching) was selected to perform. I was quite sad to miss these, especially ‘Footfalls Echo’ from my alma-mater Alexandra Ballet. The piece was a duet choreographed by Jennifer Deckert, an old friend and long-standing idol of mine. Other companies that unfortunately did not see were Consuming Kinetics Dance Company, Excel Performing Arts, Dance Arts St. Louis, Krupinski Academy of Dance, and DK Dance Productions.
Because I missed the introduction, I am not sure if the offering ‘Collective Motion’ from Central Studio was performed by their adult or student company. Either way, the piece was well-choreographed and showcased a thoughtful and lyrical representation of ballet and modern technique.The ending with the dancers facing upstage and slowly lying onto their backs was dramatic and lovely.
The Arts in Motion Dance Company (I will be unbiased here) with ‘When the Cats Away’ choreographed by Keli Hermes was quirky and fun, tasteful, and technical. It had groundwork, partnering, structure, and a stylistic movement vocabulary stemming from ballet and modern that veered off into the realms of folksy, funny, and athletic. While the dancers looked cohesive, each brought a bit of personality to individual moments. .
Midwest Ballet Theatre in ‘Tournament Gallop’ was a surprise delight. Cherry red leotards and tops with black jazz pants set off the bright and clean tone of the work. Choreography was structured and clever and the dancers looked energetic, well-trained, and well-rehearsed. Particularly enjoyable moments came from the male soloist in opening jumps and turns in front of a corps of females, the flashy jete from the first entering dancer, and the difficult and impressive glissade grand jete with jete battou from a group of four. This was a crowd pleaser with the right balance of technique, camp, and flash.
Convergence, the trainee-program to professional jazz company, The Big Muddy Dance Company, brought fluidity and contemporary grace in ‘The World Will Shimmer’. The dancers looked strong and supple in choreography that rippled effortlessly between suspended lyricism and athleticism. They brought maturity and artistry that lives up to the reputation of their ‘big-brother’ company.
Next was a duet of incredible hip hop dancers, one male one female, that seemed to be well-versed in various styles of hip hop. The male gave a solo with lots of ground work and though tall, transitioned as smoothly from flat on the ground to back on his feet as a luxury high-rise elevator. The female solo was hypnotic, intricate and fast. Both consummate performers of energy and style, these two seemed magical, as if controlled by puppetry or unseen forces.
Missouri Ballet Theatre opened and closed the show, finishing with ‘Tres’, a trio of professional women from the St. Peters- based company. The concept is pretty simple- three gorgeous women come out one at a time and dance about. However, the execution and choreography is anything but simple. The actual steps required impeccable ballet technique, ridiculously strong pointe work, musicality, and contemporary touches with ornate port de bras and serpentine hip and spine movement. Performance art can become quite inappropriate, cheap, and tacky when delving into sensual movement. ‘Tres’ showed that there is nothing more attractive, more pleasing to a general audience than skill presented with equal measure of confidence and class.To see three soloists of this calibre is an eye-opener and reminder of the talent in this company and in this city.
It is so good that the Riverfront Dance Festival exists to give dancers an opportunity to perform and to see what fellow dancers in our comunity are up to. let’s hope that should we fast forward to a year from now, we’ll all be there again. I know that I will. You can bet on it.