Amongst the dance group or academy directors, for me, one name instantly springs to mind – Yalta Pons. Since the early 90s she and her dancers have been there, omnipresent supporting charities, performing at Summer Nights, Calentita, Miss Gibraltar Pageants and other shows of every shape and size, whilst putting on their own productions for families and friends: Yalta Pons it seems, simply can’t say no!
“I can’t help it, I’m always on the go, totally involved not just producing dance routines but also designing outfits, searching around for the right materials, describing what’s needed to our costume maker in Spain as well as meeting with the different show producers to discuss what’s required for any particular production.” This lady is full of energy, leaving no stone unturned. I write up on many of the above mentioned shows for local magazines and witness that her dancers’ performances are always different, the choreography is fresh and innovative. Leit Motif, Urban Dance and now Yalta Dance Studio (YDS) to the present, never attend competitive festivals or dance contests. “No, never dancing for competition,” the dance director confirms. The group’s name changes have simply reflected the different styles of the time, ending with what Yalta calls, ‘Contemporary Fusion’, which illustrates what Yalta Dance Studio performs today, keeping their approach and technique distinctive.
“My inspirations for my pieces can come from anything: a song, a painting, an object or even an incident – anything – and I don’t run out of ideas because I feel I’m a creative junkie!”
Drama Teacher Lionel Perez and dancer Alfred Ramirez (both passed), are responsible for Yalta’s love story with dance and performance in general… “That’s right, they were my mentors. From a very young age I always felt creative. I joined the Alpha Group when I was nine; we had a closed frontier at the time and MTV was the ‘in thing’ but I’ve always preferred the musicals and loved watching dancers like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. Later I went off to university and graduated in Dance and the Creative Arts. I then spent some time in the US doing some casual work here and there and then returned to London where my agent offered me some weekend work – for one weekend – in Greece!”
Yalta however, ended up staying at the other end of the Mediterranean dancing in the sun, spending two years in Greece working in music halls all over the country backing Greece’s top singing stars: “It was a great experience moving at a very fast pace, but what I really wanted to do was start my own dance group at home. It was 1995 so I came back to Gib, sold ice cream and took on other jobs earning some cash to keep me going. Slowly I got started with other dancers and formed Leit Motif.” And the rest, as we know, is history.
On top of all the above, I feel Yalta has gone the extra mile: “Yes, you could say the ethos of dance and becoming a dancer is that you have to be skinny, but I’ve never had a problem in this industry not being skinny, so I don’t turn away bigger girls, boys and girls who may be tall or not so tall who want to join my team, and those with special needs also. We take on all characters. Personality is what needs to be brought out and have individuals treated with respect, not constantly telling them off in a nasty way which can lead to them being scarred for life.” Yalta tells me people can sometimes be cruel but slowly audiences have come to accept their performances and dancers too, lose their inhibitions as they’ve earned more respect whatever their shape or size. Inclusion and integration is the way of the world nowadays and Yalta champions that development. “Parents are great and the kids are sensible,” Yalta confirms. A lot of the kids’ time is spent at shows and rehearsals, and parents are grateful, not least for keeping them away from spending all their spare time on their PlayStations and mobiles!
Someone who plays an important part in Yalta’s work and her life is her husband, Darion Figuerero. He works quietly behind the scenes – in fact I only met him for the first time recently… “He is great, we work together, offers ideas and helps me a lot,” Yalta acknowledges, “We do things together and feed off each other. He’s wonderful support.”
The YDS director never sleeps it seems. She works in Spain with her team, has won prizes, spends time teaching in Andalucia and as a consultant to the industry in the hinterland and sometimes pops off to Madrid to judge shows. Closer to home Yalta has a close relationship with Academia Nando Perez and Eva Sanchez in La Linea. But evidently, the dance choreographer and director feels there’s still not enough on her plate! Yalta has won the Miss Gibraltar Pageant tender and is set to produce the show and all that it entails to be staged in a few months’ time on June 1st. “Oh yes, we’re planning a great show revamping the whole event concentrating on ‘local’, which is what I believe in.”
All in all, Yalta Pons asserts there’s generally a good standard of dance on the Rock: “It’s an expensive business; I must have in the region of at least a hundred different outfits at home which of course have required to be made up and paid for, thanks to parents and whatever we receive from performance fees, which increasingly we expect, especially as everyone else receives fees for sound and lighting and so on. But we also do a lot for charity and that’s not a problem. We love what we do”
And so the dance goes on! Yalta and her group are certainly kept busy. Ambiente is what they strive for in their performances, and that they clearly achieve. She’s approaching half a century and the choreographer/performer/director herself is still dancing!