Pola Nirenska, 81, a Washington modern dance matriarch who had been an acclaimed dancer and choreographer, died July 25 at her home in Bethesda.
A Montgomery County medical examiner's spokesman said that Miss Nirenska fell to the ground 11 stories from the balcony of her apartment and that her death was a suicide.
Miss Nirenska, a native of Poland, came to this country in 1949 and to Washington in 1951.
After a brilliant solo dancing career in Europe, she taught and choreographed here under a variety of auspices, establishing both a school and dance company here along the way.
She also added to her reputation as a feisty and passionate artist. In a 1990 review, a Post critic said her work "harks back to a time when modern dancers cared deeply about expressing the most basic emotions and social issues by means of weighty, fervent movement and absolute clarity of gesture." The critic went on to hail her "ability to blend raw emotion with artistic craft."
Miss Nirenska was born in Warsaw to Jewish parents. It was said that she began to dance, of her own accord, as a young girl. Adamant about dance, she finally persuaded her reluctant parents to allow her to pursue a dance career.
She went to Dresden, Germany, where she enrolled in a noted music school run by Mary Wigman.
She excelled in both dance and percussion and graduated with first honors. She then joined the Wigman company of women and was a member of its 1932-1933 tour of Germany and this country.
Miss Nirenska then struck out on her own, dancing, teaching and working as a choreographer in Warsaw, Vienna and Italy. In 1934, the prestgious International Dance Congress in Vienna awarded her a first prize for choreography, calling attention to her "susceptibility to atmosphere."
When World War II broke out, she fled from Italy to Great Britain, where she entertained troops during the conflict. She also married an actor and RAF pilot, John, Count Ledesma. That marriage ended in divorce.
She returned to this country in 1949 to study in New York under Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and José Limon. She came to Washington to pursue her career
Miss Nirenska went from triumph to triumph before abruptly retiring for a brief time. She returned to work in March 1982 with "An Evening of Choreography by Pola Nirenska," which was presented at the Marvin Theater. Her collaborators for the occasion included Liz Lerman's Dance Exchange, Jan Tievsky's Glen Echo Dance Theater, and the Contemporary Dancers of Alexandria. It was said that the only major figures of modern dance who did not attend the event were performing on stage.
In July 1990, she gave what was billed as her "farewell concert." Featuring dancers Rima Faber and Sharon Wyrrick, it dealt with Miss Nirenska's tetralogy of works from the past decade that dealt with the Holocaust. Not only was she a refugee from the Nazis, but 74 of her relatives perished in the death camps of Europe.
Looking back on her life in 1982, she told a Post reporter, "I have done things other than dance and done them well.
"As a student in Warsaw l was commended for my scientific drawings. In London, I was a sought-after model for fashion as well as for artists like Jacob Epstein. I've designed my own studio and home. But really, the one thing that has satisfied me -- not just on the surfacen -- is the dance."
Survivors include her husband of 27 years, Jan Karski, of Bethesda.