Brian Honigbaum wrestled for 20 years with creating a ballet based on the Nazi Holocaust. For the past week I’ve been wrestling with how to write about the ballet he developed as presented by Dance Kaleidoscope Oct. 16-17, 2017 at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University in Indianapolis.
The Nazi Holocaust is as close to my bones as it is to those of my generation who are here now—in the present despite the odds of not being. That was the case for Mike Vogel, of blessed memory, whose story of survival I know well enough to repeat as if he was still alive recounting his incredible journey to Indianapolis. Alice Vogel is still very much alive and able to tell her own story—as are others, though the population is dwindling with age. It was his association with Mike and Alice Vogel that moved Honigbaum to create a ballet.
The Indiana premiere of Remembrances: A Ballet in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust
(2001) comes at a crucial time - what, who, why, how, where, when to remember, not to forget — when no one from those who lived it is present to witness, who will speak for the 11-million (6 million of Jewish faith, 5-million placed into other categories as unfit within Nazi ideology)?
We have experienced dozens, hundreds of artistic expressions of the Nazi Holocaust— The Diary of Anne Frank
in its many manifestations being the most prevalent. Has witnessing the tragedy of Anne Frank’s life stopped hatred of people of Jewish faith, or hatred of individuals from any of the other groups targeted by Hitler for "cleansing" in support of his ideal of a master race?
The Bolshevik rampage of destruction in Fiddler on the Roof
is chilling for a general audience, the almost group rape in West Side Story
elicits gasps, but I’ve never heard an audience member speak about being any more impacted by these scenes than by the horrific images on the nightly news hour. We’re surrounded by so much horror we’ve become ducks, shedding horror like water.
The basic problem is that the people who say the Nazi Holocaust did not happen don’t attend a ballet about the Nazi Holocaust.
Honigbaum has stated his impetus to create this ballet is based on a broader goal beyond trying to convert those already set on disbelief. He wants to reach out to young people, have them witness the chronological horror of suddenly having your home invaded, everything broken, being beaten, herded into train cars, imprisoned, starved, mercilessly shot, raped, gassed, all for no other reason than being different from the seemingly in-control majority. Honigbaum wants children and young adults to feel the impact of injustice and a defenseless person being abused beyond human credibility. And he wants to move them to action on a daily basis so when they witness one of their peers being bullied or physically harmed they will speak up, get help, and defend the person being abused.
But what are we able to do for people who are abusers? I know abusers who have no idea they are abusers. They use words to hurt, physical action to harm, yet deny wrongdoing or invent an excuse. What can help that person change and replace arrogance, ignorance, hatred, and self-loathing [most often the impetus for hurting others] with compassion and caring?
The basic problem is that bullies don’t make it a habit show up for ballets. Even though it’s a class experience to attend, will the perpetrator of hateful activity come to school that day, come along on the bus and dutifully change?
So I approached the performances of Remembrances
with a hopeful sigh, perhaps with more sighing than hopefulness. However, because the National Endowment for the Arts had awarded Dance Kaleidoscope a grant to bring 6,000 middle and high school students to special free performances, I felt it was important to learn the effect from at least one attending group. I’ve attended dozens of Dance Kaleidoscope and Indianapolis School of Ballet performances. The quality of dancing and technical support, particularly lighting and costumes, is always excellent. I expected nothing less with Remembrances
. So a critical comment would not be complete with only a rave pointing out of the effectiveness of emotional portrayal for each of the eleven scenes: "Mother and child lighting Sabbath Candles," "Eve of Destruction," "Kristallnacht," "The Ghetto," "Babi Yar massacre," "Terezin (the Children’s Ghetto)," "Groundless," "The Transport," "Ani Mamin," "Auschwitz/Birenau (the gas chamber)" and "Mother and Child (a pieta scie of dead child)."
Neither would it be enough to point out that Honigbaum understands how to underscore horror by inserting the joyful innocence of children at Terezin—mirroring the youthful hopefulness of Anne Frank. Nor would it be enough to comment on the acute understanding of bringing the universal into personal perspective by following a family of three from scene to scene, particularly the child whose red blouse reminds one of Elie Wiesel’s seven-year-old sister, her red coat on her arm.
Indeed, one sits in the vast darkness of a huge auditorium, watching a corps of dancers herded into an ever-tightening space as the reaches of the stage to left and to right seems to stretch into infinity of a merciless death machine.
Mr. Franklin Oliver serves with the social studies department at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis. He holds a B.A. degree in History from Carleton College and a B.A. in Religion from Indiana University. He is a published poet. This is what he shared, with permission to publish as is with ExploreDance.com
“I took my 'Genocide and the Holocaust' class to see the Dance Kaleidoscope performance of Remembrances
on October 15. This event was our second field trip of the week as we had the honor of speaking with Holocaust survivor, Alex Star, on October 13 [note: Mr. Star is grandfather of two Brebeuf Jesuit Alumni]. This class has studied the Holocaust for the past several weeks, reading multiple articles, watching important films and discussing three separate books on the Holocaust. We have also been sharing student projects covering a wide variety of Holocaust related subjects. Suffice it to say, my students have been immersed in the topic.
At the same time, Remembrances
was a radical shift in our efforts to learn about the Holocaust. While a few members of the class have dance experience, for most of us, ballet is a new, relatively unfamiliar art form. Several of us had never seen a ballet performance at all. The anticipation we felt was heightened by the presence of two Brebeuf Jesuit students in the performing cast.
The ballet itself was amazingly intense. Having a consistent focal point of the girl in red helped students feel anchored in the story being told. The lack of identity for the nameless masses on stage throughout the performance also forced students to acknowledge the overwhelming number of people with whom they will never be able to make a connection. Both these elements resonated tremendously well with our coursework. The figure of Elie Wiesel’s youngest sister, identified in Night by her red coat, resonated tremendously with the visual image protagonist of the ballet. We have also spent time studying the fascist aesthetic of subsumed identity that was powerfully present in Remembrances
When the lights came up at the end of the performance, there was a hush unlike any I can remember. No gasps; just silence. Few of us wanted to believe we had reached the end.
The most powerful student commentaries during our classroom discussion of the ballet focused on the clarity and intensity of the dancing. Many students were surprised at how deeply they were moved by the performance. Some of them believed that since they have studied the Holocaust so thoroughly that they would not be very impacted.
In addition to the dancing, the use of lights, sound and especially survivor testimonies were expertly utilized. Hearing Mike Vogel’s testimony as to the importance of remembering the Holocaust added a powerful element to the experience. Remembrances
certainly aids in the endeavor of encouraging us to continue reflecting on the Holocaust. Watching it was a beautiful, painful experience."
Other community programs surrounded the performances of Remembrances
. August 30, at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where a permanent exhibit “The Power of One,” spotlights the story of Anne Frank, Jeannie Smith shared the story of Irene Gut Opdyke, her mother, who “received international recognition for her life-saving actions during the Holocaust.” The Broadway play, “Irena’s Vow,” detailed the story of this Polish rescuer, one of the many righteous whose memory and deeds are living tributes in Israel at Yad Vashem, as well as at other sites throughout the world.
October 22, at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler Eva Mozes Kor delivered the Celebration of Diversity Lecture, “The Triumph of the Human Spirit: From Auschwitz to Forgiveness.” Eva Kor, Holocaust Survivor, author, founder of Candles Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1995—in her own name—forgave the Nazis, and in so doing “freed herself from her victim status.”
To survive the horror of the Nazi holocaust takes great strength. Yet one also must remember all the others impacted by the Nazi intent to rule the world. The widows and children of those who served on the side of the Allies to overcome the Axis have had their own shattered lives to work through, as have those who returned after serving. Susan Johnson Hadler’s memoir of searching for her father who died in Aachen just as the liberation of France was underway, is one such story of loss. “The Beauty of What Remains” offers the wholeness of a father whose body was so blown apart nothing was left to bury.
And so it is, 82 years after Hitler’s rise to power, that we reflect on a world that has not much changed from horror. Can Remembrances
bring but one bully to kindness, one dictator to compassion, one night without a shooting, one day without a massacre?
Perhaps the power of art has hopefulness to spare for justice in an unjust world.Remembrances
featured the Dance Kaleidescope company: Stuart Coleman, Phillip Cranshaw, Emily Dyson, Jillian Godwin, Mariel Greenlee, Timothy June, Aleska Lukasiewicz, Marte Osiris Madera, Mandy Milligan, Caitlin Negron, Paige Robinson, Justin Sears-Watson, Missy Trulock, Noah Trulock and Zach Young with guest artists Rachael Newbrough, Jaclyn Virgin Oomkes and Indianapolis School of Ballet dancers Abigail Bixler, Betsy Boxberger, Alexandra Jones, Zoë Kashin, Mackenzie Kirk, Maggie Mahoney, Claire Quint, Abigail Robb, Hannah Schenck, Allison Shi and Isabella Wilson.
Music was by Leonard Bernstein, John Williams and traditional Jewish Songs; Lighting by Laura E. Glover; Costumes by Annette Duncan; Vocals by Cantor Janice Rogers.
Brian Honigbaum grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana and found dance at an early age. He began his training at the age of 8 at the Jordan College Academy of Dance, at Butler University where his early teachers included Karl and Colette Kaufman and Michelle Jarvis. At the age of 14, Brian was one of only 25 dancers invited to train at the prestigious HARID Conservatory in Boca Raton, Florida. While at HARID, Brian trained with some of the most well known teachers of the era including: Marjorie and Maria Tallchief, John Taras, Oleg Tupine, Igor Youskevitch, and others. Brian continued his training at both the Boston Ballet and San Francisco Ballet School where he was invited to train year round. After dancing professionally with the Louisville Ballet, Dance Kaleidoscope, and Corpus Christi Ballet, Brian retired from the stage and now resides in Corpus Christi, Texas with his wife and two daughters. Brian is currently the Ballet Master with Corpus Christi Ballet.
"Remembrances: a Ballet in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust" — with Stu Coleman, Jillian Godwin, Mariel Greenlee, Caitlin Negron and Emily Dyson
Photo © & courtesy of Chris Crawl
"Remembrances: a Ballet in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust" — with Caitlin Negron, Jillian Godwin, Mariel Greenlee and Zach Young
Photo © & courtesy of Chris Crawl
Opening moments from "Remembrances: a Ballet in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust."
Photo © & courtesy of Chris Crawl
Caitlin Negron and Timothy June in "Remembrances: a Ballet in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust."
Photo © & courtesy of Chris Crawl