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Bethel Puppeteer Takes Her Art Outdoors To Add Nature To Performances

Adelka Polak performs the Leaf Dance in her solo outdoor performance of "Tales that Only Look Tall" at the White Silo Winery in Sherman, on the terrace. Photo Credit: contributed
Lightning approaching the recent Rebirth Arts Festival in Easton during an evening live music act Photo Credit: contributed
Artistic Director, Puppeteer and Performer Adelka Polak of Sova Dance and Puppet Theater in Bethel. Photo Credit: contributed
Bird Mask & Puppet by Justin Perlman and Performed by Adelka Polak in "Branches," which premiered at the Sandglass Theater in Vermont in 2013. Photo Credit: contributed
Adelka Polak's "Leaf Blanket" above as performed in "Branches" at the Sandglass Theater. The puppet was created from a life cast of Adelka Polak which was made with handmade grass papers from her farm Photo Credit: contributed
Adelka Polak performs at LAMP (Light Artists Making Places) in New Haven, which utilizes video projection of natural forms with live music and shadow dance performance. Photo Credit: contributed
"Born In Clay" mask/puppet was created when Adelka Polak performed with MASQUE Theatre. This piece was performed locally in various venues as well an International Puppet Festival in Bulgaria in 2011. Photo Credit: contributed

BETHEL, Conn. -- Bethel artist Adelka Polak makes it her mission to incorporate nature into all her performances — she does this by holding them outdoors.

She is the artistic director, founder and mixed media performing artist of the SOVA Dance and Puppet Theater, which is based in Bethel.

"The concept of outdoor performances is to get people outside for a dramatic experience," Polak said. "These performances combine all the things I love -- being outdoors and having imaginative fun.

"They enable people to enjoy the theater while taking in natural elements such as the wind, the birds, natural lighting, and planes flying overhead."

At SOVA, Polak wears many hats -- she is a dancer, puppeteer, mask performer and movement director.

The outdoor shows can be unpredictable, but that's part of the appeal. At the recent Rebirth Arts Festival in Easton, a small shower came down in the middle of a scene.

"The rain only interrupted the festival for one hour, but the whole experience was magical," Polak said. 

"Well-lit woodland fairies came out of the Art Trail forest and into the open field to enjoy the live music by playing, dancing and talking with guests in the open lawn," said Polak, who is 36.

Polak first thought of the idea for an outdoor performance in 2002 when she was on tour with Squonk Opera, an avant-guarde theatre troupe. 

"I thought, why am I trying to get a show in a theater when I have this beautiful land, which made the perfect performance space," she said.

Each performance usually takes a month to put together. "They involve scoping out space and figuring out who the collaborators will be," Polak said.

She is currently at work on a show called "Fabric of the Forest Theatre in the Rough," which is expected to run next summer.

As part of this show, there will be different sets of small performances spread out outdoors -- each one about 10 to 15 minutes long.

"I want to create a hiking experience so people can move with us. It's beautiful for people to go in and out of sunlight and in the shade of the trees. It opens them up to new experiences," she said. "People will be able to hike and have a theatrical experience along the way."

Polak recently worked with Heather Hensen, daughter of the late puppeteer Jim Henson, in a puppet festival in the East Village, N.Y. There, she worked with people in the Native American community, learning about culture, songs and dances.

Polak also teaches theater at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury as well as hip-hop dance, Woodland Theatre and wild crafting at the Summer at Wooster camp in Danbury and gives puppetry workshops for preschoolers at the Sandy Hook Children's Adventure Center.

She has a bachelor's degree in theater and cultural science from Chatham University in Pennsylvania.

As a society, she said, "We put ourselves in these houses and we have so much of our world in office spaces. I'm really interested in reconnecting with the land."

For more information on Adelka Polak, click here.

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