Olga Pona

In the small town, Novotroisk, in the south Ural, just at the Kazakhstan border, there was no art other than the usual expressions of communist aesthetics. Her Summers she spent at the pioneer camp, where her mother was the director. The only contact she had with “art” during her childhood, was through movie magazines she bought at the kiosk. Olga’s mother, a self-taught school teacher, convinced communist and director of the local pioneer camp, with a strong interest in theater. When traveling theater companies performed in the town, actors and other artists would gather in their apartment, discussing art and the world. It was probably this environment which very much influenced Olga, without realizing it at that time.

After graduating from high school, the decision to move to Chelyabinsk, was not made very consciously. As an “excellent” student, it was clear that Olga should continue studying. Moscow was too far and too expensive and when her best friend decided to enter the Chelyabinsk Technical University, to study tractor engineering, Olga just followed her. During her studies there, she saw dance for the first time in her life. It was folkdance and ballet and she decided to try it out. Although at first she couldn’t understand how people were able to stand on one leg and not fall, it turned out that she had talent and after her graduation as a tractor engineer, she decided, against the official rules, to study dance at the Chelyabinsk Cultural Institute. The program was not very intensive: a few classes every week in ballet and folkdance, composition classes following theories of socialist esthetics.

At that time there was no contemporary dance in Russia that she was aware of. A few people, mostly from Moscow and St.Petersburg, had been to the West and had brought back some information, but this information hadn’t reached Chelyabinsk yet. The early work of the company, which was founded by Vladimir Pona and Olga Pona in 1992, was a combination of short entertainment sketches and pieces which could be seen as a form of “visual theater” but also as the first signs of an emerging “Russian” contemporary dance.

The first piece Olga Pona made after having been invited as a guest-artist at EDDC (Arnhem, The Netherlands), “Do I Have You or Don’t I”, received the Golden Mask, the Russian national theater award and after Bertram Müller, director of tanzhaus nrw in Düsseldorf, saw her work at the festival in Volgograd, he invited the company to make their first production at tanzhaus nrw in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Since then, her work has been performed in many countries and in many festivals, often supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture. In 2004 “Staring into Eternity” was performed at the Rencontres Choreographiques, Bagnolet, which a year later, resulted in an invitation of Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, to make a production: The other side of the river.

For Olga Pona and the dancers, creating work and performing is not just an artistic necessity. It is also a way, probably the only way, to collect the strength necessary to deal with the reality of life as an artist in today’s Russia and, at the same time, using this reality as a continuous source of inspiration.