Spring in Their Step; New Showcase for Ballet and Modern Dance Will Make Its Debut Next Weekend, Featuring Four Local Companies Performing Works by Nationally Recognized Choreographers

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Although dance is among the most vibrant of the performing arts, it's often bedeviled by the notion that it's not for the average person and that enjoying it requires special knowledge that might not be worth the trouble to attain.

But in St. Louis, that attitude is becoming a thing of the past. The annual Spring to Dance Festival, held each Memorial Day weekend since 2008, has attracted people who may not know the difference between ballet virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov and game-changing statesman Mikhail Gorbachev but can relate to the magic of bodies in motion. And next weekend, another showcase for ballet and modern dance is set to make its debut: "New Dance Horizons," which will feature four local companies performing works by nationally recognized choreographers.

"New Dance Horizons" is presented by Dance St. Louis, which commissioned the choreographers and is also the organization behind the Spring to Dance Festival. Michael Uthoff, executive and artistic director of Dance St. Louis, said the new event is intended to focus a spotlight on St. Louis-based companies while serving as a platform to help raise their national profiles.

"The biggest challenge that most companies have is finding good works to produce, and the money to produce them," Uthoff said. "New Dance Horizons," he said, addresses both issues while allowing the artists to take creative risks.

The companies to be showcased, which were chosen based on their reputations and potential, are Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company, Leverage Dance Theater (formerly aTrek Dance Collective), MADCO and St. Louis Ballet. The program will include Jessica Lang's "Anonymous" (Common Thread), Victoria Marks' "Dancing to Music" (Leverage), Gina Patterson's "Second Line" (MADCO) and Pam Tanowitz's "La Tristesse de St. Louis (A Ballet)" (St. Louis Ballet).

Stacy West, executive and artistic director of MADCO, said "New Dance Horizons" is just the kind of venture that the St. Louis dance community needs.

"I had really wanted to work with Gina Patterson, and then this opportunity came up," said West, adding that she is impressed with choreographers who "use highly technically trained dancers, but put really creative and inventive movement on them. I feel like she has a knack for that, and that style is great for MADCO."

Lang's "Anonymous" meshes well with the style of Common Thread, said Jennifer Medina, the company's artistic director. …