ZIVILI was the only fully professional ethnic dance company in America which performed exclusively the dances, songs, and music of the peoples of the Southern Slavic Nations...and Pam Lacko Kelley and Melissa Pintar Obenauf co-founded and co-directed this company during its 30-year existence. The company performed all over Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Wyoming, New York, Bulgaria, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia, as well as throughout the Midwest. In addition, the company performed at the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, was Dance Company in residence at Disney World's EPCOT Center, and made its New York debut at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College (BCBC). During the summer of 2000, the company was chosen to represent Ohio at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and then acted as a key facilitator in Plovdiv, Bulgaria at a UNESCO-sponsored "Balkan Youth Reconciliation Seminar." ZIVILI was supported in part by grants from the Greater Columbus Arts Council, the Ohio Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Community Arts Fund. ZIVILI was awarded the Greater Columbus Arts Council's "Artistic Excellence" Award in April, 2001. Pamela Lacko Kelley, the company's artistic director and choreographer, is a 9-time recipient of the Ohio Arts Council's Individual Artists Awards for Choreography. Melissa Pintar Obenauf served as ZIVILI's executive director and dance director, and was also a professional dancer with the company. She too has choreographed for ZIVILI and is also a recipient of Ohio Arts Council fellowships in choreography. Ms. Kelley and Ms. Obenauf are both respected experts in the field of ethnic dance; in addition, both have degrees in elementary education and have extensive classroom experience. During the 1993-94 season, the esteemed modern dance choreographer, Mark Morris, who began his dance training in Slavic dance, created "The Office" especially for ZIVILI, to great critical acclaim in both The Wall Street Journal and in The New York Times. During the summer of 1997, ZIVILI performed for persons displaced by the homeland war, in refugee camps located in Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and in Sarajevo, Bosnia. During the summer of 2001, the company again performed in Refugee Centers and Orphanages in Croatia, as well as in public spaces. (ZIVILI is a Croatian toast meaning, "To LIFE!")
Melissa Obenauf and Pam Kelley, in addition to running "Heart of Croatia Gifts," also teach frequently through Greater Columbus Arts Council's Artist-in-Schools Program and are also Artists-in-Residence in the Ohio Arts Council's Arts Learning Program. Both women have been instructors of Slavic dance at the University of Rio Grande for the past 5 years, and last year, Melissa served as Associate Professor of Dance at Denison University. Pam and Melissa also are frequently hired to choreograph for many children's and adult Croatian groups throughout the country. They are both graduates of the Ljetna Skola Folklora (Summer Folklore School) in Croatia under the direction of the late Dr. Ivan Ivancan, and both women have close associations with LADO, Croatia's state folklore company.
Pam's maternal grandparents are from Lika, Croatia; Melissa's paternal grandparents are from Gorski Kotar, Croatia. Melissa Pintar Obenauf and Pam Lacko Kelley spent 30 years of their lives researching Croatian customs, traditions, and history for their dance company, ZIVILI. Now, through their direction of "Heart of Croatia Gifts," they are able to continue that same mission of preserving the beautiful heritage(s) of the Croatian people.