As the heat wave relents and local breweries begin to hawk their pumpkin ales, it's clear that the fall arts season is upon us. And while it's only natural to look forward to a future with cool temperatures, umber-hued sweaters and the crunch of leaves underfoot, the season begs us to gaze backward, as it offers a rich and at times didactic glimpse into cultures, figures and mediums of yesteryear.
St. Louis' Dances of India was started in 1976 by Asha Premachandra, a dancer who left India to settle in the United States. An internationally known professional dancer, Premachandra is credited as having introduced Indian classical dance to St. Louis. Her specialty is the Bharata Natyam, the oldest form of Indian dance — very different from Bollywood and other modern forms. Through her teaching, Premachandra has developed a strong cross-cultural understanding of Indian culture and dance, and her student base has thrived.
Every year, Dances of India arranges a performance to highlight the successes students have gained. Often present are hybridized forms of dance, blending Western theatrical tropes with Indian music and movements. For the Dances of India 35th Anniversary Premier Performance Friday, November 16, through Sunday, November 18, the company joins Saint Louis Ballet dancers as well as a live drumming set complete with a flamenco and tap dancer. Fusion being a focus point of the company, long-time student turned instructor Patrick Suzeau choreographed an Odissi fusion piece. Odissi is technically the oldest form of classical Indian dance, originating from the northeastern state of Orissa, and is made of a series of luxuriously graceful stances resulting in fluid movements. Only a comely theater could house such a beautiful night, which is why the evening is held in Chaminade College Preparatory School's new state-of-the-art Skip Viragh Center for the Arts. Asha Premachandra has done much more than bring Indian dance to St. Louis; together with Dances of India, she has made it part of St. Louis' history.
Next, dive into the history of jazz with A Night of Duke Ellington at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, October 30. Duke Ellington was more than a handful of impeccable manners and a charming, handsome face. Once a little boy who skipped his piano lessons to play baseball, Ellington went on to become one of the most important composers in the history of music. In the 21st century, Ellington is still compared to great classical composers — Bach, Beethoven — in the ways in which he shaped music and his brilliant compositions. The St. Louis Jazz Orchestra is led by the director of the jazz program at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, bassist and lifelong jazz lover Jim Widner. A Yamaha artist, Widner is a skilled improviser, and his big band delivers big sound delightfully. "Satin Doll" is a perfect fit for the jazz orchestra; smooth and bright, it's a wonderful crowd pleaser and features the kind of cool bass one expects from a great jazz song. Why the public fell out of love with the big-band sound is a mystery, but surely the St. Louis Jazz Orchestra will win back their hearts.
Contemporary photographer Michael Hintlian is interested in capturing past moments. The backstory is this: Hintlian is a documentary photographer based in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the recipient of several awards, is internationally recognized and is currently the director of the documentary photography department at the New England School of Photography. His prints look effortless, evading tangible descriptions such as "image" or "picture," instead offering the feeling of dreams or memories. The compositions frame themselves, as though his camera were simply tossed out of a car and abandoned on a curb. Hintlian is an expert at blending in with the background, so as to keep himself as inconspicuous as possible. The impossible product of these many traits is that his subjects are captured in unconscious moments. The viewer is present in the scene as he or she looks upon it, becoming, if just for a moment, a part of the balance.
No Transfer: Photographs From Public Transportation is a series entirely dedicated to pedestrian happenings. Hintlian rode "the T" bus line from beginning to end for several months, training himself to trust his reactions instead of meticulously constructing the image. There are simple thoughts, such as an elderly man standing alone in the middle of a lonely wall; a snow-covered easy chair left outside in the winter to be loved by someone else. Then there are the sweet moments; several images from this series depict somewhat private moments between couples. Each photograph is a testament to Hintlian's ability as an observer and, of course, as a photographer. However, it's more moving to ride along with him peering at Boston and, in a sense, the world through a scratchy window. The subjects in No Transfer prove that art possesses the power to change the way the mind operates; a stranger from afar is nothing more than a passing thought yet, upon closer inspection, has the ability to reveal a closeness that otherwise would never be experienced. Webster University's May Gallery hosts the series and Hintlian himself for a lecture on Friday, September 7, at the show's opening reception. Exhibits such as these do not come around often and are history in the making themselves.