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Sister City dancers putting on free show

Wisła ensemble slated to perform July 14 at Foellinger Theatre


Wheat Williams

Whatzup Features Writer

Published July 6, 2022

The Wisła is one of the largest rivers in Europe, and the major cities in Poland can be found along its banks. Not the least of them is Płock, more than 1,000 years old with a population of 118,000. Since 1990, Płock has been a Sister City to Fort Wayne.

For the Three Rivers Festival, Płock is sending once again the Wisła Song & Dance Ensemble, making their ninth appearance  in our city on Thursday, July 14, at Foellinger Theatre, and the first since 2015.

Sneak peaks

This vibrant, brightly costumed group of young singing dancers, whose lineup has evolved across the decades, is a part of Fort Wayne heritage now. Whether they are dancing the stately, courtly Polonaise or dazzling with the frenetic folk Mazurka, these 10 pairs of young performers and their eight-piece orchestra are obviously having a lot of fun being international cultural ambassadors

The ensemble will be making a few brief appearances elsewhere around town and at the Three Rivers Festival, chiefly to sing a half-hour on bandstands and in retirement homes, with no room for dancing, the dazzling costumes, or the full orchestra. 

“It’s fun and culturally immersive when you have the live band there playing with them,” said Steve Kucharski, Fort Wayne Sister Cities spokesperson and a proud Polish-American. “That’s what makes the July 14 performance so important. It’s their only full performance while they’re here in town.”

The Foellinger concert will be the culmination of a 12-day visitation of dignitaries from Płock, celebrating 32 years of sister cities. And as “sister cities” means a two-way cultural exchange, on this trip the Wisła Ensemble will be meeting with the Fort Wayne Ballet and its director Jim Sparrow to plan for the Fort Wayne group’s performance in Płock’s Folk Festival in 2023.

On Saturday, July 9, Mayor Tom Henry will join Płock Mayor Andrzej Nowakowski and his delegation when the Wisła Ensemble walk in the Three Rivers Festival opening parade, followed by a short performance at Freimann Square. The group will also give short performances at the International Village on July 15 and 16.

Additional brief performances include the Towne House retirement community July 8, Crazy Pinz Bowling on July 11, Parkview Mirro Event Center and the Georgetown Place retirement community July 15.

Sister Cities since 1990

Kucharski has some fascinating stories to tell about the enduring connections Fort Wayne has formed with cities across the globe. 

“President Eisenhower started the Sister Cities organization back in the 1950s after World War II to try to ‘become friends with our enemies,’ ” he said. “We didn’t pick up on it in Fort Wayne until 1976 when someone had a contact in Takaoka, Japan.” 

Fort Wayne has now committed to reaching out to people who might previously have been regarded as enemies.

“Well, Poland was never an enemy,” Kucharski said. “But they were behind the Iron Curtain in the Cold War, and that was the genesis of this discussion. There was a gentleman in Fort Wayne, Stan Podzielinski, who started this back in 1989.”

That was the year the Soviet Union collapsed, the communist Warsaw Pact fell apart, the Iron Curtain came down, and Poland transformed into a free market democracy. Within a year, Fort Wayne and Płock formalized their Sister City status. In 1992, Fort Wayne connected with another Sister City, Gera, in the former East Germany.

Falling in love

Fort Wayne’s connections with Płock and the Wisła Ensemble go even deeper, as Kucharski explained, saying after tours in the ’90s, two Wisła dancers fell in love with Fort Wayne and became Americans. 

A young dancer named Iwona went to medical school in Indiana, married Podzielinski’s son, and now Dr. Iwona Podzielinski is chair of Gynecologic Oncology at Parkview Hospital. 

Dancer Ewelina Connolly is now CEO of the nonprofit Amani Family Services, which provides support to refugees and immigrants from all over the world who settle in Fort Wayne. 

“It’s all part of the impact that Sister Cities is making in our community, like it’s supposed to,” Kucharski said.

Along with performances, the Wisła Ensemble is calling attention to the tragedy befalling their neighbors in Ukraine. 

You can make a donation to Fort Wayne Sister Cities’ campaign to support Płock’s ongoing work to care for the Ukrainian war refugees who have fled to Poland online at fortwaynesistercities.net.

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