UMSL to honor Dance St. Louis director
Michael Uthoff’s choreography has been seen throughout the world for 40-plus years. He has toured extensively as a dancer, led companies in three states and now the artistic and executive director of Dance St. Louis will receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts Saturday from the University of Missouri–St. Louis. The degree will be conferred during UMSL’s summer commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. in the Mark Twain Athletic & Fitness Center.
“As an artist excels in the process, one’s devotion to an art form is so others can enjoy the inner beauty one sees,” Uthoff said. “To be singled out by UMSL for this Doctorate of Fine Arts Honoris Causa is daunting. I never thought anyone was looking, least of all paying attention to what I was doing. I can only hope to do it justice in years to come.”
Uthoff, a resident of the Benton Park neighborhood in St. Louis, is recognized by the global dance community as a leader, choreographer, teacher and dancer. In 2006, he became the artistic and executive director of Dance St. Louis, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build appreciation for dance by presenting performances by internationally known touring companies.
Dance St. Louis and UMSL became partners in 2007. Since then, the organization has presented most of its major performances at the university’s Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. Uthoff has also created opportunities for UMSL students to work with him and the visiting artists. And under his leadership, Dance St. Louis and UMSL teamed up in 2008 to create the annual three-day “Spring to Dance” festival at the Touhill, which features performance by Midwest dance companies.
“Since arriving in St. Louis in 2006, Michael Uthoff has been an outspoken advocate for the University of Missouri–St. Louis and the Touhill Performing Arts Center,” said John Hylton, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication at UMSL. “The honorary degree that Uthoff will receive on Saturday is richly deserved for his many contributions to the arts over a 40-year career in dance.”
Uthoff was born in Santiago, Chile, to former dancers Ernst Uthoff and Lola Botka, both of the Jooss Ballet and founders of the Chilean National Ballet. He began dancing after high school, and a year later arrived in New York to attend the Juilliard School of Music, School of American Ballet and Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. He danced with the José Limón Company and was a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet.
From the time that Uthoff created his first dance for the Joffrey Ballet in 1967, his ballets have entered the repertory of companies all over the world. His large-scale works include “The Nutcracker,” “Coppelia,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Awakening,” “Dias de Muertos” and “Romeo and Juliet.” He has directed operas and choreographed for opera companies internationally, and has served on the board of Dance/USA and panels of the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1972, Uthoff established the Hartford Ballet in Connecticut. For the next 20 years, as artistic director, he developed the company into a national institution that toured throughout 49 states. He commissioned works by both new and established choreographers, and created more than 100 ballets for the company himself. In 1992, Uthoff accepted the position of artistic director of Ballet Arizona, a post he held until 1999.
Uthoff’s recent career as guest teacher, choreographer and artistic adviser includes entities such as the government of Chile, the Shanghai Ballet of China, the California Ballet of San Diego, Portland Opera Performing Institute in Oregon, Andanza Dance Company of Puerto Rico, the Ballet Estable of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he held the post of artistic director, and his own Michael Uthoff Dance Theatre, which premiered in 2003.
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