FRINGE 2017: 'Place/Setting'

Pones’ tenth production for Cincy Fringe focuses on the polarizing topic of immigration.

Calling Pones Inc. a dance company doesn’t come close to describing what they accomplish year after year. Diminutive Executive Director Kim Popa has big visions for her troupe, whose mission statement says, “Pones believes that art creates powerful change.” That kind of thinking results in a multifaceted work like Place/Setting, Pones’ tenth production for Cincy Fringe. The focus for 2017 is the polarizing topic of immigration.

The show uses three actors, nine dancers, four choreographers, a playwright and a documentary video. It’s performed at 1201 Main Street, a bare-bones space, to be sure. It it heats up quickly — literally and metaphorically. There’s no AC, so don’t overdress — the physical exertions of the dancers and some cooking mean the room quickly heats up. But that’s OK, because the subject matter, explorations of the local immigrant experience expressed in multiple ways is soothing, poignant and insightful.

Walk in and you’ll be asked to declare “your country of origin.” You’ll receive an appropriate cup of spices and be directed to find a place at the tables around the room’s perimeter, perhaps not with whoever came with you to the performance. Tables are set with ceramic pieces created by a dozen local ceramicists, coordinated by visual artist Pam Kravetz.

Performed in three sections — like three courses of a meal — that each open with a provocative, thoughtful monologue by Chicago-based spoken word artist Jyreika Guest, Place/Setting’s subject is enhanced by the work of documentarian Ian Forsgren, who interviewed 14 immigrants now living in Cincinnati.

The performers are very diverse: Shapes, sizes, race, gender and age. What’s more, as they take on the personas of immigrants, they frequently become someone else — an African-American dancer takes the perspective of an Iranian, a Caucasian performer voices the experiences of a young Latina.

There is a constant flow of nervous energy and anxiety through Place/Setting. The opening segment focuses on the trials and tribulations of arrival, sharing fears about being scrutinized to prove legitimacy. Raw emotions are physically evinced; the resolution — three are told “yes,” while others are rejected — ends with sighs of relief.

The second section is more lighthearted as a meal is described and prepared, a tomato stew with rice that could be from many lands. All contribute, including some audience members invited to grind spices. The image of the “melting pot” is strong, and the dancers draw smiles as they physically enact the responses of rice being cooked. (The program’s choreographers are Mandie Reiber, Gaston Ward, Courtney Duncan and Popa.)

The third section draws heavily on the projected video interviews with the Cincinnati-based immigrants. While bowls of food are shared with the audience, suffusing the room with the aroma of numerous spices, we witness expressions of personal hopes and their affection for their new home. “It’s such a beautiful country,” one says; another calls America “the best place to live on Earth.” Passing the food evokes conversation between performers and audience members — further evidence of the melting pot. 

We hear a clear message: “You make the United States better.” America is the sum total of all who come here, and the rich diversity brought by immigrants strengthens our nation. That’s a powerful takeaway, more than one might expect from a dance troupe. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from Pones. For the 2017 Cincy Fringe, those expectations are marvelously and emotionally fulfilled.


The CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL continues through June 11. Find CityBeat reviews of 41 early performances here. For a full schedule and more info about Fringe, visit cincyfringe.com.

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