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With Social Change at Hearts of Its Tales, Pones, Inc. Creates New Piece for Fringe

Pones Inc. is taking it to the streets for this year’s Cincinnati Fringe.

Kim Popa co-founded Pones in 2008, not long after graduating (summa cum laude) from Northern Kentucky University (theater/dance). The group has never strayed from its vision of using dance and movement to address social themes, always through collaboration, connection, and community.

Graphic highlights some of downtown Cincinnati’s murals, taking ticket-holders on a performance/walking tour. Pones creates six pop-up stages in front of what Popa calls the city’s “urban art gallery” for “dance, spoken word, live music, and theatre” vignettes to “focus on social change and awareness of issues Cincinnati is currently facing.”

Those topics include (in program order) “the divisions and potential for coming together between the original residents of Over-the-Rhine and the new populations, environmental issues and the resonance of nature and its energy, women’s battles to control their image, the extinction of black male lives.”

The ArtWorks and Higher Level Art murals “are the inspiration for the pieces, but the works are not always a literal interpretation.”

Each pop-up stage work was taken on by a different creative team including a writer, director, composer and choreographer with diverse perspectives.

“In a way I was like an 'art match maker' and facilitated the coming together of some insanely talented people.  Feeling really grateful about that,” Popa noted.

More than 34 artists collaborate on Graphic, including: rapper Abiyah Rawyers; composer Ian Gullet; violinist Preston Bell Charles III; community activist Jai Washington; choreographers Ian Forsgren, Courtney Duncan, and Popa; music by Rob Keenan of Dawg Yawp; visual artist Patty Chal; directors Michael Burnham and Brian Robertson, and writer Derek Snow.

Kim Popa (provided)

There’s plenty of Northern Kentucky involvement, including Chal, Robertson and Popa as well as NKU students Rhonisha Gentry, Kate Stuard, Emanual Picazo, Collin Newton, Kyle Segar, and Domonique Trader.  

Graphic began with Popa inviting the artists to choose a mural within a five-block radius of Know that inspired them, and to tie it to social change.

NKU theater professor Robertson chose the theme of women's health/image and the backdrop of Mr. Tarbell Tips his Hat that greets everyone who comes into Over-the-Rhine via Vine Street at Central Parkway.

The next step was discussing what elements should be a part of the piece in addition to dance.

For HER (Robertson’s piece) “we wanted a solo female dancer who could also sing. Hillary Hahn was the perfect choice. She is graceful, sleek, elegant and a gorgeous ballet dancer.

“The musicians came about in two parts.  We have worked with (violinist) Preston Bell Charles III in multiple settings and I knew I wanted strings and we knew we wanted live music. 

“Two rehearsals involved Hillary and Preston improving and creating themes together based off prompts.”

Popa met Aaron Todahl in another collaborative piece in OTR and he was an amazing improv jazz trumpet musician.  It made sense to add him to the mix for the moments that needed more explosive composition. 

“When he and Preston got in the room together it was magic. They riffed off one another and decided to involve even more sounds (rain stick, didjeridoo).

Brian Robertson (provided)

“The text was all Brian. He wrote a poetic script and cast two incredible, talented women Keisha Kemper and Kate Stuard, to play the two voices inside of Hillary's head. 

“The piece is a quilt of artistic expressions weaved together. Most of the piece was created organically in the studio versus being pre-set by Brian or myself. The artists truly brought the life to the piece.”

Audience members will receive their ticket and a map to each vignette at the Know Theatre box office. Each stop is another story that “prompts conversation.”

With Graphic, Popa says she’s “hoping for the same thing I always hope for with a show -- the opening of a dialogue.  We strive to create work that isn't too one-sided or opinionated and also doesn't offer a concrete solution or tie up all the loose ends. 

“We hope each vignette will prompt some curiosity surrounding these issues that are both local and global.  I often find that social justice topics can be so polarizing and seen in black and white.  I hope to illuminate the grey, the mitigating circumstances, within the topics.”

Passersby will not be shooed away. Pones is all about making art accessible and inclusive, and to “encourage the audience to experience dance in new ways.”

Graphic, 7:45 p.m. June 1 and June 8, 8:45 p.m. June 5, 9 p.m. June 10 and 7:45 p.m. June 11. Tickets $15. www.cincyfringe.com/tickets/ and 513-300-5669.

*Audience members will receive ticket(s) and a map to each vignette at the Know Theatre box office, 1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine. Walking time is about 24 minutes (depending upon pace) and/or 1.1 miles and travels throughout a five-block radius of the theater to six murals. The entire event is expected to be 70 minutes.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts