This year marks choreographer Pola Nirenska's 35 years in Washington, during which time she has served as teacher, company director and dance maker, as well as mentor to young Washington dancers. In 1982 Nirenska came out of an obviously premature retirement to bestow her knowledge on a new generation of dancers. Her superbly crafted dances are reserved as gifts for the best of them.
As part of Glen Echo's Dancefest in celebration of International Dance Week, Nirenska's newest work, "Shout," received its premiere performance. A solo for Sharon Wyrrick, this piece was the highlight of Saturday's Independent Choreographer's Showcase.
"Shout" employs the expressionist vocabulary of hands held in fists or splayed tensely, of open-mouthed silent screams, and of exaggerated staring eyes. As in its Lou Harrison score, "Hatred of the Filthy Bomb," the phrasing of its movement is also jarringly disjunctive; it comes in coughs and sputters, which suddenly freeze or lapse into an automatonlike measured tread. With her terror-filled eyes and distorted limbs, Wyrrick seems to plead "why?" again and again until her final horrific pose, in which she claws at her uncomprehending head and her eyes widen into a deathlike stare.
The scenario is unspecified, but its revulsion at some monumental inhumanity is blood-chillingly clear. "Shout" is a cry of anger and anguish that testifies to Nirenska's work in both traditional German and American modern dance. Now in her seventies, Nirenska brings to this generation a nearly forgotten vision of dance as an expression of the human soul, particularly of its darker, tormented side. This tradition Nirenska brings from her work with Mary Wigman in Germany prior to World War II. Nirenska combines this vision with the liberating technique she acquired from her studies with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman when she immigrated to the United States in 1949.
Wyrrick, the latest dancer to receive the benefit of Nirenska's experience, is familiar in Washington as a dancer of lyrical sublimity. Completing the challenge to Wyrrick begun by Daniel West, Nirenska has peeled away this lyricism to plumb for depths of raw emotion and blistered intensity.