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Dances of India celebrates 45 years of teaching traditional dance in St. Louis

Dances of India presents a show every autumn featuring classical dance and a production written and narrated by its president, Nartana Premachandra (right), and directed by local dancer, choreographer and visual artist Theckla Mehta (left).
Emily Woodbury
/
Dances of India presents a show every autumn featuring classical dance and a production written and narrated by its president, Nartana Premachandra, right, and directed by local dancer, choreographer and visual artist Theckla Mehta, left.
This year's Dances of India performance will feature traditional dances, an original theatrical production about the myths of the Ganges River and an opera translated through the expressions of classical Indian dance.
Mike Oransky
/
This year's Dances of India performance will feature traditional dances, an original theatrical production about the myths of the Ganges River and an opera translated through the expressions of classical Indian dance.

Dances of India, one of the oldest classical Indian dance groups in the U.S., will celebrate its 45th annual performance this weekend.

“This production, this year especially, is very humorous. We wanted to have fun for our 45th annual performance,” said Dances of India President Nartana Premachandra.

The show will feature traditional dances, an original theatrical production about the myths of the Ganges River and Claudio Monteverdi's “Lamento della Ninfa” opera translated through the expressions of classical Indian dance.

“‘The Lament of the Nymph’ works so well in Indian dance because in Indian Hindu mythology, there are nymphs, who are called ‘apsaras,’ and these are celestial dancers,” Premachandra said. “These women always fall in love with earthly men and then, something happens, they can't be with them, and they get mad and they curse them.

“Just like the Greek gods are made human by the stories of jealousy and rivalry,” Premachandra added, “we bring some of that into the show in a very humorous way.”

Premachandra and Dances of India Co-Director Theckla Mehta joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss this year’s performance and the Hindu mythology that inspires their dances.

Nartana Premachandra and Theckla Mehta join St. Louis on the Air

Premachandra’s dad founded Dances of India in St. Louis in 1977.

“He was one of the first, I think, two Indians to actually come to St. Louis,” she said. “So I learned about my culture, really, from my parents and our dance company.”

Now, she said, there is more knowledge of Indian culture in the St. Louis region, though there are still misconceptions about classical Indian dance.

“Many people may think what we do is Bollywood, but it's not at all — the classical art form is very different,” Premachandra said. “There are many different kinds of dance in India, several classical forms, and then several folk forms. India is replete with dance.”

Classical Indian dance, she said, is very rhythmic and comprises complex footwork and dozens of intricate hand movements and facial expressions.

“I think what distinguishes classical Indian dance from many other styles of dance in the world is this depth of storytelling. We use the hands and the eyes to tell all kinds of stories from ancient legends to even contemporary tales,” she said.

Over the decades, Dances of India has collaborated with many dance troupes, including St. Louis Ballet, flamenco companies and Dance Co. of St. Charles. St. Louis-based West African Dance Company, Afriky Lolo, will perform with Dances of India this weekend.

“When my dad came [to St. Louis], because there were so few Indians, he very much wanted to connect to all the St. Louis community. That's why we're very determined to, as far as possible, make our pieces very accessible to all kinds of audiences … because everyone can get something from it.”

Related Event
What: 45th annual Dances of India performance, featuring Afriky Lolo
When: Nov. 11-13
Where: Skip Viragh Center for the Arts (Lindbergh Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63131)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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