DANCE MAGAZINE / USA - 2005
Pona brings her quirky vision to an ADF workshop
Pona, 45, uses the phrase "beautiful, with love," as the
students at American Dance Festival rehearse her dance, A Little Bit of
Nostalgia, late one afternoon last July.
part of the festival's International Choreographers' Commissioning
Program (ICCP), Pona, who is founder and artistic director of the
Chelyabinsk Theater of Contemporary Dance in Russia, worked with 10
students for five weeks to create a piece for the festival's performance
lineup on a program shared with Miguel Robles of Argentina and Tom
Shimazaki of Japan.
dancers at ADF, being chosen to partake in the ICCP is a coup. This past
summer, 200 of the 275 dancers enrolled in the six-week summer course
auditioned for the three participating choreographers, and only 36 made
the cut. In choosing students for her dance, Pona said she was looking
not so much for brilliant dance technique as interesting personalities
and different body types. "For me, it's more important to bring
people to the stage than to bring a unison ensemble," she said.
students who got to work with Pona expressed an affinity for her loose,
postmodern style that allowed them to both use their technique and let
go of it. "There is an ease to the movement. It isn't contrived. It
has a humanness," said 20 year-old Juan Aldape. "She allowed
room for us to bring a part of ourselves to the piece."
the choreographic process Pona asked each student to create a movement
phrase, which she later incorporated into the dance. She also used
students' voices in the sound score. "We were told to scream our
names while thinking of our parents' voices," said 20 year-old
Marcela Giesche. The calling of names became frantic when the score
changed from rustling wind to the rumble of military tanks used to evoke
a sense of crisis as well as history.
birch forests of Russia provided the initial inspiration for Pona's
dance. The set consisted of stylized birch trees made from white PCV
pipe marked with black electrical tape. Dancers swung, perched, and
twirled on these trees suspended above the stage or secured to it.
"There are feelings of nostalgia because it's my landscape,"
Pona said. "At the same time, it could be an urban forest. When
people go through life, it's like in a forest. They don't know what will
happen. They get lost. Sometimes, they take risks."
grew up in the small village of Novotroisk in the Orenburg region. At
16, she went to Chelyabinsk in the south Ural region to study
engineering at the Polytechnic Institute in order to learn something
useful for village life. But she never returned to her village. Instead,
at age 21, she discovered dance. She studied ballet and folk dance at
the Chelyabinsk Institute of Culture, graduating in 1985. In 1992, still
living in Chelyabinsk, she happened to see a television broadcast about
the American Dance Festival offering classes in Moscow. She traveled by
train for two days to get there, only to discover that the ADF classes
had been going on for a week. Too late to enroll, she observed classes.
Once home, she formed a dance company and continued to explore modern
dance. Today, Pona's 15-member group performs throughout Russia and
Europe. Her choreography awards include Russia's Golden Mask Award and
Belarus's International Festival for Modern Choreography Award [see
"Belarussian Roulette," DM, October, page 59].
The ADF created the IGCP as an outgrowth of its International Choreographers' Workshop begun in 1984 as an opportunity for foreign choreographers to immerse themselves in modern dance. "We want our kids to have the experience of working with other cultures and vice versa," ADF director Charles Reinhart said.
ICCP experience can even lead to a job, as was the case with students
who performed with choreographer Shen Wei in the program from 2000 to
2003. Former ADF students were among Wei's company when it gave three
sold-out performances at the festival this past summer.
21 year-old Alice White, the experience of working with Pona proved to
be a turning point. "I wasn't sure I wanted to pursue dance as a
career," she said. Now she knows she will.
Broili, a journalist with The Herald-Sun in Durham, N.C., has written
about dance for almost 30 years and contributed to DANCE MAGAZINE for
over a decade.