ArtFul Living

St. Louis Area Fine Arts, Crafts & Performing Arts
Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky, Arts Editor

Exclusive behind the scenes look from The Healthy Planet

Sometimes I go to an exhibition or a performance without doing any homework, to just experience the art for its own sake. Still, I find the ARTistic experience is enhanced by knowing the background of the artist, the story behind the work. This month, I had some special opportunities to get the inside scoop on some ARTful happenings. Hope you enjoy this private peek behind the curtain:

Dance St. Louis presents New Dance Horizons II on October 4-5. Even if you read this column after the event, the fitness regimens and healthful lives of professional dancers is intriguing. Before the performance, I had the rare chance to interview renowned choreographer and dancer Nejla Yatkin of Leverage Dance Theater, a modern dance collective led by Artistic Director Diana Barrios. Dance and creative movement come together in non-traditional environments for this group to generate social discourse that fuels their artistic work. Yatkin, a Berlin native with Turkish roots, was described by the New York Times as “a magician telling tales, creating worlds with understated movement.” Our Q&A sessions sparked a great dialogue.

Nejla grew up in the heart of Berlin, Gemany on the westside of the then-divided city. If you know the film “Wings of Desire” by Wim Wender, you’ve seen her neighborhood. Nejla’s playground was Bermannstrasse and she holds fond memories of the place. In response to my questions about fitness for children, the dancer replied, “Sports were a big part of curriculum at school in Berlin. We also did a lot of hiking trips during the year, learned to swim and dive, did gymnastics, acrobatics. We played volleyball, handball, soccer, plus skiing trips to the Alps in Austria. In Berlin, I only used public transportation and my bike. I rarely used a car. I think that still influences my life style.”

When I asked if this affected her direction as a dancer, she responded, “Yes, it did impact me greatly. I was naturally an athletic, very active child, so I became an athletic dancer.”

My questions about how she stays in shape received the following response: “I try to walk everywhere I can in Chicago, use public transportation and my bike a lot. I live in a 4th floor penthouse in a building that doesn’t have an elevator. I walk up and down those stairs daily! I do Yoga, Qigong and meditation as well as archery to keep me focused. I also go to a sauna regularly to detox my body.”

Any special diet? “I love cooking and eat very healthy, organic food whenever I am home. It’s difficult to do when on the road but I think I would say I follow a Mediterranean diet: lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, flavorful herbs and spices. I eat fish at least a couple of times a week; I enjoy poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in moderation but I am saving sweets and red meat for special occasions. I am very excited to spend three weeks in St. Louis to share my art and to create a new work with Leverage Dance Theatre. I’m also looking forward to get to know the city and its cuisine.” Oh, no…. wait until Nejla discovers toasted ravioli!!

For 17 days and nights, from October 4 through 20, the fourth annual American Art Experience St. Louis will fill venues in the area with productions of American theatre, dance, music and art. From the Best of Missouri Market at Missouri Botanical Garden to opera performances, every day offers artistic variety. What began as a grassroots effort to introduce the public to be aware of how art is made, the American Art Experience has grown into a collaboration among arts organizations to draw attention to the quality and breadth of our region’s “Art made fresh daily,” and to attract new visitors.

“St. Louis receives 11.3 million visits to the arts each year – that’s more than the Cardinals, Blues and Rams audiences combined,” says Paul Reuter, Festival Chairman and Director of The Sheldon, citing the Regional Arts Commission’s 2010 Arts and Economic Prosperity IV Study. “This festival is one of the events that adds to the economic engine of our city.”

For a complete lineup of the exhibitions and performances this year, visit www.americanartsstl.org.

Reading a book is quite different from hearing firsthand why it was created. A luncheon with farmer-now-author Dan Burkhardt’s Missouri River Country, published by Missouri Life Media, provided that insight. Indeed a beautiful collection of essays sharing thoughts from 60 contributors who love the Missouri River between its confluence and Hermann, MO, the book is a work of art with breathtaking photographs and illustrations.

“I wanted to illustrate the many scenic and historic treasures to be preserved along the river,” said Burkhardt, “as well as to encourage people to reside in the St. Louis area. We often talk about the city, but seldom discuss the beautiful countryside just bordering St. Louis.” Proceeds from the book support the Katy Land Trust, Magnificent Missouri and The Nature Conservancy to support Missouri conservation and better connect Missourians with their countryside. The book (a great gift idea!) is available at Missouri Botanical Garden, Bowood Farms, or online at www.MagnificentMissouri.org.