Pola Nirenska is a living triumph over her own anachronisms.
Nirenska, who is 72 and has been teaching and choreographing in the Washington area since 1951, makes dances from an esthetic standpoint and with technical means that date clearly back to the '30s. By rights, the pieces she's been devising since her "comeback" a few years ago should look hopelessly dated and secondhand. By some miracle of revived spirit, they don't.
Nirenska clings to her roots, not out of any antiquarian fetish or innate conservatism, but because she knows her own true center; she's so sure of what she's doing, and so full of conviction about its meaning, that her work inevitably feels entirely newborn.
We had further proof of this last weekend when the Dance Place produced "An Evening of Choreography by Pola Nirenska," which drew a packed and vehemently enthusiastic house Saturday night for the first of two performances. The program contained eight solos--four of them premieres--and a duet. For the occasion, Nirenska assembled eight of the finest modern dancers in the area. It was a tribute both to their own prowess and to Nirenska's powers of inspiration that every one of them seemed to attain a newly exalted level of artistry within the context of Nirenska's work.
Of the new pieces, two were rather atypically lighthearted--"Bag Lady" was a character sketch most engagingly set forth by Rima Wolff; "Laughter" had Liz Lerman shaking and guffawing lustily to giddy wind music by Eugene Bozza.
Diane Floyd seemed to embody some nameless introverted poignancy in the sinuous "Encircled," to Villa-Lobos' familiar "Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5." "Trip" had Cathy Paine writhing through a despairing, erotic narcosis, on and around a small table, to music by the Modern Jazz Quartet.
The older repertory included the duet "The Divided Self" (Floyd and Jan Tievsky) and the solos "Longing" (Sue Hannen) and "Wounded" (Betsy Eagan). The two most impressive performances came from Lerman in "Exits," a study in approaches to death, and Colette Yglesias in "The Eternal Insomnia of Earth," a hauntingly Angst-ridden dance monologue.