Big Muddy Dance Company relaunches as Saint Louis Dance Theatre

Like Reba McEntire’s Fancy red dress reveal or the Super Bowl drop of Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter, the Big Muddy Dance Company is rolling out a big, bold move this weekend, transforming their name and brand to claim the city they call home.

The reveal began Wednesday with a soft launch introducing Saint Louis Dance Theatre (SLDT) before a soccer game at CITYPARK and continues through Sunday in their season-closing engagement at COCA’s Berges Theatre.

“If we’re going to be moving in a certain way, how we identify needs to land right away,” artistic director Kirven Douthit-Boyd says. “It’s about civic pride. There is something so special about the arts ecosystem here in St. Louis. For me, plugging in in this way and elevating us to this level rounds out the ecosystem.”

The rebrand is one piece of Douthit-Boyd’s razor-sharp vision for the contemporary dance company he took on two years ago following Brian Enos’ departure. Key to that vision were two non-negotiables: diversifying the ensemble and raising the bar.

Douthit-Boyd says it hasn’t been easy, but he hasn’t faced pushback from the board, staff, dancers, or audience, saying his plans have “gotten a lot of buy-in from the folks that have been around for awhile.”

Executive director Erin Warner Prange is among those ready to invest in Douthit-Boyd’s vision. She’s the last remaining founding company member in the organization following Geoff Alexander’s departure last season.

“It’s kind of beautiful in the way that we’re crossing this bridge from a very grassroots history to this more established place,” Prange says. “We’re still small enough that we can pivot and be nimble, but we’re gaining enough recognition that we can really make a difference.”

Douthit-Boyd’s vision stems not only from his performance career at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but from a thick rolodex of contacts. It’s a network that places Saint Louis Dance Theatre where the Big Muddy Dance Company only dreamed it could be: in conversation and at the table with some of the country’s best and brightest choreographers and dancers.

Proof in the pudding: This season included works by in-demand choreographers like Jessica Lang, Sidra Bell, Nobert De La Cruz III, and Tommie-Waheed Evans, the latter a stunner called Notes on a Farewell appearing Saturday and Sunday as part of the company’s season closer, Identity.

The upcoming 2024-25 season reaches even higher, with new pieces by De La Cruz and former Ailey choreographer-in-residence Jamar Roberts, plus the SLDT premieres of two classics: Jiří Kylián’s Sechs Tänze and Chaconne, by José Limón. To this, SLDT doubles down on their commitment to full-length works with the return of Joshua Peugh’s My Dear Watson and a St. Louis-inspired spin on the Ellington-Strayhorn Nutcracker in collaboration with Jazz St. Louis. Audience members may notice a few new dancers next season, too, culled from nearly 500 across the country who turned up to audition this winter.

But raising the bar also raises the price tag, thus audience and donor development are top of mind as SLDT enters this new era. The small, nimble staff is nothing if not up for a challenge. Prange says after 13 years, it was time to step up as one of St. Louis’ leading cultural institutions.

“The city is a very big part of our identity; it always has been,” Prange says. “It’s saying we’re from St. Louis and claiming that stake here.”

The company now primarily rehearses and performs at COCA in University City, but Prange and Douthit-Boyd hinted at a future dance center for the company and its large training programs within city limits.

“There are other dance companies in St. Louis and they’re all doing tremendous work,” says Douthit-Boyd. “But it’s taking that on, saying that we are for the city, we’re going to be in the city, we’re providing what we feel are the highest caliber of artistic experiences for our community—because our community is worthy of these experiences. It’s bringing the world here and pouring it back in.”

Leave a Reply