Since bringing classical Indian dance to St. Louis in 1976, Dances of India has captivated a wide range of audiences with its annual companywide performances each fall. Performances have ranged from Indian adaptations of Western classics like “Cinderella” and “The Nutcracker” to this year’s performance, “Incandescent: The Luminous Love Story of the Sun,” which is based on an Indian myth. Dr. B.N. Premachandra, the company’s founder and original president, also established the annual St. Louis Dance Festival in 2000. We spoke with Nartana Premachandra, who took over as president after her father’s unexpected passing late last year, to learn more about the nearly 40 years of the company’s history and this year’s fall performance.
How did your parents end up in St. Louis?
My mom (Asha Premachandra, artistic director) danced in India for a while. My dad had been here earlier; he was a graduate student at the University of Missouri. They married and moved to the states in 1963. My dad was a scientist; he worked at the VA at Jefferson Barracks for years. Initially, it was my mom who started teaching. My dad, while he always helped, didn’t really assume the role (as president) for about 10 years.
How did Dances of India come to be?
My mom, her whole life, she loved dance. She never wanted to do anything else but dance. She learned a style of dance called bharata natyam, the most prevalent style of classical Indian dance. She didn’t know who would want to learn Indian dance, but she went to Washington University’s Stix International House, a building for international students, and she just started classes there. One of her first students was Theckla Mehta, and she is still with us as co-director of the company.
What kind of impact has Dances of India had on St. Louis multicultural dance?
I do think when we first started out, no one had any idea what classical Indian dance was. In fact, people often thought we did Middle Eastern dance, like belly-dancing and stuff. Now, there’s a much greater awareness of what classical Indian dance is. (People) are much more aware of it than they were in the 1970s.
What has the response from the community been since your father passed away? What’s next for Dances of India?
What’s remarkable is that no one asked my mom or me, “Are you going to keep going with the company?” We are grateful for the support from the Indian community and the St. Louis community at large. Thirty-eight years at an arts organization is a lot, much less a minority organization! As long as there’s interest in the company, we’ll keep going!
Tell us about the “Incandescent” performance.
It’s based on an Indian myth. We adapted it for the stage. It’s about this girl, the daughter of the architect of the cosmos, and she loves the sun. (The story is) the humbling of the sun. The dancer who is playing the sun is Kiran Rajagopalan. He’s from St. Louis, but he studied in India and lives in New York now. Half of the show will be the “Incandescent” performance. The other half will be classical and folk Indian dances. We’re going to have Patrick Suzeau, a wonderful French Canadian modern dancer who trained with my mom. He is a professor of dance at the University of Kansas. Friday and Saturday are the exact same shows. The Sunday matinee dance drama is the same, but the first half is done by beginning and intermediate dancers. On Sunday, we like to highlight the development of the dancers.
“Incandescent: The Luminous Love Story of the Sun” is Nov. 13 to 15 at Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. For more information, call 314-997-0911 or visit dancesofindiastlouis.org.