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Colorado Ballet's "Holocaust" - A Journey of Celebration, Anguish, and Survival
As part of what seems to be the University of Denver's Newman Center's "Journey of the Human Spirit," the Colorado Ballet is presenting Stephen Mills' "Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project" all of this weekend - March 29-31st, 2013 - in that center's Gates Concert Hall. In contrast to the expected, the work is about Holocaust survivors as opposed to victims. And it celebrates the lives of those survivors before and after the death camps as well as the "hope" within them, which they found so essential to surviving Himmler's "final solution."
The work is set to compelling music that varies from the Hebrew-like rhythms of Evelyn Glennie to Steve Reich's "Tehillim" - in which the strings seem to regularly scream in anguish - to softer works by Arvo Part and Philip Glass, and one section driven by insistent, shrieking sirens. Originally created for the Austin(TX) Ballet, the work consists of five sections that seemingly look at the life of one survivor (Caitlin Valentine) and her partner (Adam Still) through the lens of a telescope - but backwards. Those sections first move through the bigger lens of life - Adam and Eve and the beginnings of humanity, the lives of the survivors and celebrations of same - to the narrower focus on the horrors of transport and internment, and finally the loneliness and doubts of survival. The work ends with four duet couples dressed in blue as symbols of the hope all survivors state was necessary for them to survive.
Mills places folk dances in the early sections as celebratory gestures, costumes the dancers in stark underwear in the interment scenes, and uses Reich's music well in depicting how horror waxed and waned within the camps. Although Valentine states that she found the work to be about finding emotion as opposed to technique, the technique resident to the Colorado Ballet is not only present but necessary, especially in the solos in the "Reich section," which are repeated on many dancers. Somehow those dancers find the deep and essential emotions while maintaining the dance.
I have never experienced being in an audience so captured by a work that no sounds evolved from it until the end, at which time that audience spontaneously rose in a standing ovation. The ballet will also be presented at the DU Newman Center on Saturday March 30th at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Donald K. Atwood
Copyright World Dance Reviews 2013