‘Generations: Poland’ Presents Pola Nirenska’s Work at the Kennedy Center

Paul Emerson is back. More importantly, perhaps in this case, so is the work of Pola Nirenska, the Polish choreographer celebrated for her creations themed around the Holocaust.

Emerson, well remembered in Washington for co-founding the highly original City Dance Company which was once headquartered at Strathmore and performed all over Washington, D.C.,  is back heading the equally original and internationally flavored and connected Company E, which has already caused quite a buzz in local dance circles.

He and Company E are finally able to mount “Generations: Poland,” which includes works by three generations of Polish choreographers, ranging from those of the Holocaust to today’s  twenty-somethings, in a special evening, which will also feature the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir — at the Kennedy Center’s Family Theatre Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve had this in mind for a long time. I’m especially proud to center this evening around the work of Nirenska,” Emerson said. “She survives through her work, and we honor her and keep the work alive with new work as well.”

The Warsaw-born Nirenska fled Europe presciently at the start of the Second World War and lost 27 family members to the Holocaust.  Already an artist with a mature body of work when she left Europe, she was haunted by the Holocaust and its aftermath. She is famous for her “Holocaust Tetralogy,” which occupied the last decades of her life.   “Dirge,” staged by Rima Faber,  the conservator of Nirenska’s art, with music by Ernst Bloch, is a part of the tetralogy. “We are finally able to honor that vision,” Faber said.  

“In some ways, this particular program and project is what Company E is all about,” Emerson said. “With this program, we’re building on her work, inspired by her.”

“Generations: Poland” was originally slated to be performed in January but was postponed because of the Jan. 22 blizzard, known as “Snowzilla.”

Emerson and Faber worked with Doug Wheeler, the president emeritus of Washington Performing Arts and one of the members of the Pola Nirenska Dance Awards Committee to bring the evening to life.

Nirenska, who died in 1992, was considered by many to be a matriarch of modern dance in Washington. She had made Washington her home, a place where she became a force, a renowned teacher and director of her own company. 

The evening will also feature the presentation of the annual Pola Nirenska Awards, which were established in 1993 in memory of his wife by famed Georgetown University Professor Jan Karski, a Polish expatriate and member of the Polish underground during the war. Karski died in 2000. This year’s honorees are Erica Rebollar, Deborah Riley and Douglas E. Yeuell.

“Our modern choreographers, of Polish descent, are building on what she created,” Emerson said. Lida Wos, who grew up in Soviet-era Poland, will have her “Who Let the Dogs Out?” dance performed, with an original score by Marcin Brycki.  Robert Bondera, 26, will give a world premiere of his “Didi and Gogo,” with music by Pavel Szmanski.  Faber will direct Nirenska’s “Dirge.”

Emerson will direct “Air,” choreographed by Emerson and Alicia Canterna, Vanessa Owen, Kathryn Sydell Pilkington, Robert J. Priore and Gavin Stewart, performed to Henryk Gorecki’s Third Symphony, known as the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs,” and performed live by the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir.          


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