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Ballet Sheds Light on the Holocaust

Updated: Tuesday, September 24 2013, 03:05 PM CDT

The ugliness of the Holocaust seems an unlikely theme for a beautiful ballet. But Ballet Austin's Artistic Director, Stephen Mills, choreographed a dance that moves from happiness to heartache and then, finally, to hope. For him, Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project has been a life changing labor of love.

"The project came about because of my need as an artist to have a deeper conversation in our community about the events of 9-11," Mills said. "I spent three weeks in Eastern Europe visiting death camps and concentration camps talking with survivors and trying to really understand."  

This week, the ultimate trip for this ballet company delivering an anti-hate message. Mills and Ballet Austin are taking their work to Israel. The final performance will take place at the historic Gerard Behar Theatre in Jerusalem. It was built in 1961 for the trial of Nazi War criminal Adolf Eichmann. A place that once housed a trial against a Nazi will host a dance promoting protection of human rights.

For the dancers, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Jaime Lynn Witts is the lead dancer in the ballet and portrays the life of Holocaust Survivor, Naomi Warren. Warren lives in Houston now, but grew up in Poland. Witts says it has been a powerful experience to share Warren's story through dance. She said, "It's all there in the choreography, in the way the story builds and the piece moves. There are no breaks, no intermission. You have to prepare yourself for the journey as you go."

That journey is an emotional one for both the dancers and the audience. That's what makes it empowering. Mills says, "The story of this dance is the story we still grapple with today, genocide continues. How could we possibly understand the complexities of these issues? But we can talk to the people in the middle, ordinary human beings who are suffering. That's the light I guess. Our goal is to be able to take that light and share it with people, so they will do something about it."

By Judy Maggio

Ballet Sheds Light on the Holocaust

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