Pola Nirenska


Pola Nirenska (1910-1992) survives through her work, and the gift of an annual award to honor those who have made outstanding contributions to dance. Supported by donations by Dr. Jan Karski, the late Ms. NirenskaÆs husband, the Fund is administered by the Washington Performing Arts Society which hosts a committee that annually decides to whom the award shall be given. Special consideration is given to the community of dance in Washington, DC where the couple lived and worked during their later years. Consideration is also given to their native country, Poland, where Dr. Karski risked his life working for the Resistance against the Nazi invasion of World War II. He was among the first eyewitnesses to carry reports of the Nazi death camps to government leaders in England and the U.S. (President Roosevelt, personally, in fact), and has been much honored for his heroism, especially by the nations of Poland and Israel.

Pola Nirenska, a matriarch of modern dance, an international soloist and choreographer, a teacher and inspiration to many dancers, left Poland at age 18 to study dance with the legendary Mary Wigman in Dresden, Germany. Her introduction to the United States was on tour with Wigman in 1933. Upon the companyÆs return to Germany, the rising Nazi party pressured Wigman to ôretireö her Jewish dancers. Nirenska then launched a successful career as a prominent soloist with receipt of first prize in the International Dance Competition in Vienna. She fled to England in 1939 to escape the encroaching Nazis.

Emigrating to New York in 1949, Nirenska studied with Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Jose Limon. Two years later she moved to Washington, DC and soon afterwards opened her own school, started a company and becameùaccording to dance critic Alan Kriegsmanùôone of the founding spirits of Washington dance.ö NirenskaÆs company thrived and her school grew until she was teaching 400 children, adult students and professional dancers. She also taught at the Madeira School and at the Washington School of Ballet.

In 1969 Pola retired, but retirement didnÆt suit her. After wrestling with illness for ten years, she entered the Dance Exchange, announced who she was and that she wanted to teach again. She did, and with the help of Glen Echo Dance Theatre, went on to choreograph her remarkable later works. With a new cadre of WashingtonÆs leading dancers, she performed her work at Glen Echo Dance Theatre, Prince GeorgeÆs Publick Playhouse, Dance Place, Marvin Center, Lisner Auditorium and the Kennedy Center. She served as mentor to several area dancer/choreographers including Rima Faber, Liz Lerman, and Sharon Wyrrick. Past recipients of the Pola Nirenska Award include Rima Faber (for Pola NirenskaÆs Memorial Concert 1993-94), Liz Lerman of Dance Exchange, Carla Perlo of Dance Place, and choreographers Eric Hampton, Jacek Luminski, and Sharon Wyrrick. Awards for Lifetime Achievement have gone to Erica Thimey and Doris Jones.

Watch Past Performances

Video 7/19/2000: Dances for 1, 2, 3 and More

Laura Shandelmeier, Joseph Mills & Mary Buckley, Bowen-McCauley Dance, and Mim Rosen perform Dances for One, Two, Three and More.

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