Uthoff taking final bow as head of Dance St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

Uthoff taking final bow as head of Dance St. Louis

Feb 29, 2016

Dance St. Louis is under new leadership as it winds down its 50th season, after executive and artistic director Michael Uthoff announced he's leaving after 10 years.

"I’m 72 and I figure I need some time to smell the roses," Uthoff said.

Even so, he’s thinking about a possible opportunity outside St. Louis. Uthoff said he’s especially interested if it’s a part-time position but would consider full-time as well.  Uthoff, who’s also known as a choreographer, wouldn’t say where the job is. He did say he hopes it involves more artistic endeavors.

"I’d rather concentrate on what I’m really good at, which is the creative end," he said.

Uthoff won’t cut ties

The mission of Dance St. Louis is to present dance performances by local and national companies and provide educational opportunities.

Michael Uthoff headed Dance St. Louis for 10 years.
Credit Dance St. Louis

Uthoff founded the “Spring to Dance Festival,” giving the public the opportunity to see professional dancers perform for as little as $10. He set up the Dance Education Residency Program focused on underserved young people in the city.

Uthoff also created New Dance Horizons, teaming national choreographers with local dance companies to debut original works. Dance Horizons IV took place this past weekend and involved choreographers Dianne McIntyre, Robert Moses and Bebe Miller. It featured three former Alvin Ailey dancers who now live in St. Louis, as well as Big Muddy and Madco dance companies.

Whether he stays in town or not, Uthoff said he’ll still be involved with "Spring to Dance" and "New Dance Horizons."

"Until they tell me to get the heck out of there," he joked.

Support for other companies has a price

Michael Uthoff receiving an Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts from UMSL’s College of Fine Arts and Communication in June 2015.
Credit Dance St. Louis

Uthoff said he’s happy to leave the financial end of the business behind. He enjoys fundraising but said it’s been a challenge to boost ticket sales. One financial issue stems from what has actually been a success story for Dance St. Louis.

The company has long supported local companies such as Big Muddy, Madco and St. Louis Ballet. But that support has come at a cost. For example, Dance St. Louis used to bring touring shows of "The Nutcracker." But as St. Louis Ballet grew, it began presenting its own version. It no longer made sense for Dance St. Louis to stage an out-of-town "Nutcracker," according to Uthoff.

"Because it would mean working against St. Louis Ballet," he explained.

That move cost Dance St. Louis as much as $350,000 a year, Uthoff said.

Uthoff said the increasing prominence of local companies has also split audiences, who now have more performances to choose from.  But overall, he said attendance has risen during his 10 years with Dance St. Louis. He said the organization is financially stable.

Dance St. Louis operations and education manager Janet Brown will temporarily fill the executive director position, effective immediately. Uthoff will stay on as artistic director through the end of the season.

From Santiago to St. Louis

Michael Uthoff and Sally Brayley Bliss dancing with the Joffrey Ballet in 1968. Bliss went on to become executive director of Dance St. Louis before Uthoff took the post.
Credit Dance St. Louis

Uthoff grew up in Santiago, Chile, watching his parents dance and eventually found the Chilean National Ballet.

He began dancing after high school, and came to the U.S. a year later to attend the Juilliard School of Music, School of American Ballet and Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. Uthoff went on to dance with the José Limón Company and become a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet.

Uthoff said as long as he's in St. Louis, he'll continue as an adjunct professor of dance at Webster University, which he vastly prefers over managing the business of dance.

"I love teaching," Uthoff said. "Why worry about things I struggle with when I can be an inspiration to many?"

Michael Uthoff leads a 2012 summer dance program at Stephens College.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL