The genesis of IONA was Artistic Director Cheryl Flaharty’s realization, upon completion of her studies in New York City in the late 80’s, that for dance to evolve as an art form, it had to defy specific categorization and narrow definition. Under the tutelage of choreographer Poppo Shiraishi, she had been profoundly affected by the experimental movement language of the Japanese butoh dance form. The deeply emotional and physically subtle characteristics of butoh resonated with Flaharty’s innate sense of dance as an expression of all that transcends the body.
From its very inception in 1990, IONA (formerly Iona Pear) began to develop a visual vocabulary all its own. Departing from the somber underpinnings of classic butoh, Flaharty sought to elevate the awareness of audiences to beauty, reverence, and uplifting components of existence. Flaharty’s affinity for story, allegory, psychology and world mythology shaped IONA’s work as narrative yet non-literal, ancient in content but contemporary in interpretation, and ultimately poetic.
From this orientation arose IONA’s first evening-length performance in 1992, ‘The Mythology of Angels’. It was greeted with instantaneous raves and has become a signature work for the ensemble. The success of ‘Mythology ‘ set into motion Flaharty’s aims of reaching out directly to the community through outreach programs and cultural grassroots activities. These events were further galvanized by IONA’s critically-acclaimed evening length pieces ‘Worshiping Sun’, in 1995, ‘Hawaiian Myths and Legends’, in 1997 and her 2002 premiere ‘Destiny’. The company has toured extensively throughout the Hawaiian Islands, the West Coast, Alaska, and Wisconsin, and Internationally to Shanghai, China.
As IONA has evolved and grown in its oeuvre, it has enjoyed collaboration with notable artists in other disciplines including playwright Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, Hawaii Opera Theatre director Henry Akina, composer John Signor and video artists Mark Kadota and Sergio Goes. Continually progressive, IONA as a complete dance-theater entity continues to build alliances, widen the impact of art and remain true to its core: the elemental contribution of dance to life.