The Chelyabinsk Contemporary Dance Theater was founded in 1992 by Vladimir and Olga Pona. The company is supported by the city of Chelyabinsk and has currently 15 dancers. Some of them have been with the company for more than ten years.
The company performs work by Olga Pona (artistic director) as well as by Vladimir Pona. Chelyabinsk is a large industrial city, one and a half million inhabitants, just accross the border between Asia and Europe, on the Asian side of the Ural Mountains. When Olga Pona started choreographing, her knowledge of Western contemporary dance was very limited: she had seen a few video’s and taken some classes in Moscow and Novosibirsk. Maybe this is one of the main reasons why in her work she has been able to develop a movement vocabulary which, although it contains many traces of Western contemporary dance, is personal and unique: contemporary dance made out of necessity.
Olga Pona finds the subjects for her pieces in her immediate environment: the “characters” in her work are the people border of Kazakhstan, where she grew up. She tells the stories of these people, their relationship with past and present, their hopes and expectations. On the other hand she tells these stories, not as a simple narrative, but through often abstract movement sketches. In this sense, her work connects with the great Russian literature: it can be read as a simple story, but there is also an abstract, philosophical level, which makes it into contemporary art.
For Western dance experts it has sometimes been difficult to recognize the contemporary relevancy of Olga Pona’s work. The main reason for this is probably that her work doesn’t follow any of the Western contemporary traditions: instead of searching for purity, she tends to collect what ever could be useful to tell her story. The virtuosity of the dancers is not defined by stylistic perfection, but by a sketch-like physicality.