In October 2019, four major St. Louis cultural institutions came together for three nights to present an unprecedented outdoor stage production of Duke Ellington’s jazz suite, “Such Sweet Thunder” in the Public Media Commons. The collaboration between St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis and Nine PBS brought to life the twelve-part composition in a multidisciplinary performance charting a tempestuous love story set in the 1950s. 

In the summer of 1956, Duke Ellington was inspired by a visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to make a musical exploration of Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays. The following year, Ellington and his jazz orchestra recorded an album over a three-week period and titled it after a line from Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “So musical a discord, such sweet thunder” (Act 4, Scene 1)

Over the course of three nights, 1,000 people viewed the performance for free. In addition to the artistry on display, the collaboration demonstrated how St. Louis is uniquely positioned to join forces to create arts experiences.

The Big Muddy Dance Company brought in Dexandro Montalvo to create original choreography, and Bruce Longworth, acclaimed director of Shakespeare in the Park, adapted the script and directed the company of two actors, 16 dancers and a 15-piece band from Jazz St. Louis that played the timeless score.

Jazz St. Louis President and CEO Gene Dobbs Bradford shared, “Collaboration allows arts organizations to make bigger, better art than they would be able to do on their own. The climate here in St. Louis is one that is much more open to collaboration than any arts scene that I've seen anywhere else.”

The production stared Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep, Ron Himes, and Webster Conservatory professor, Rayme Cornell. Scenic Design by Peter and Margery Spack, Costume Design Claudia Brownlee and Lighting Design by Jonah Schnell brought the Public Media Commons to live and set the mood for the production.

“The value of arts collaboration cannot be overstated, especially in this time of a pandemic, we're all looking to figure out ways that we can maximize our strengths, said Nine PBS President and CEO Amy Shaw.  “When you collaborate with other arts organizations, you're able to lock arms in a way and create more than you can create on your own.”

“Such Sweet Thunder” is being recognized at the 2021 St. Louis Arts Awards on Monday, May 24, 2021, in recognition of the partnership between St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis and Nine PBS that increased access to the arts in an unexpected and meaningful way.

Did you know you can celebrate St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis and Nine PBS with a St. Louis Arts Awards Tribute Gift? A tribute gift is a great way to honor and celebrate honorees. When a tribute gift is received, we will send an acknowledgment to the honoree indicated, notifying them of your thoughtful donation, but will not reveal the amount of the donation. Every gift is tax-deductible, and you will receive an acknowledgment of your donation. Make a gift here.