In the fall of 2015, Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project travels to a new community, bringing its important message of understanding, compassion and tolerance to audiences at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, Florida. Since its world premiere in Austin in April 2005, Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project has traveled to Pittsburgh in 2009, culminating in performances by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The project returned to Austin in 2012, with 46 community partners engaged in the community collaboration. The City of Miami hosted the project next in late 2012, with performances and community dialogue hosted by The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. And in 2013, Denver, Colorado, welcomed Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project with performances by the Colorado Ballet, which was followed by the international debut of the work through a three-city tour to Israel fall 2013.
Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project continues to engage audiences worldwide in this important dialogue while making an indelible impression on the individuals who experience it and the community leaders, presenters and artists who make it possible.
"Light /The Holocaust & Humanity Project is a story of survival. Situated during the catastrophic events of the Holocaust, this work strives to illustrate the courage, resilience, and sometimes pure luck required to endure and rebuild life after unimaginable and devastating loss. I am grateful to Naomi Warren and the many survivors who shared their testimony during the creation of this work. I am forever changed by this knowledge and hope that by my sharing Naomi's story, others will be affected to fight indifference and intolerance when witnessed. Past is present and not to be forgotten." – Stephen Mills
The Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project YouTube Channel houses several videos surrounding this full-length contemporary ballet and community-wide educational initiative including Artistic Director Stephen Mills' TEDxSMU 2010 speech on Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project.
In 2005, Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project was featured in KLRU's "Arts In Context: Ballet Austin's Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project," which won a Emmy Award. In 2012, KLRU won a second Emmy Award for its documentary "Producing Light," both of which can be viewed below and on the YouTube channel.
CONCEPT/CHOREOGRAPHY: Stephen Mills | MUSIC: Steve Reich, Evelyn Glennie, Michael Gordon, Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass
As an artist whose practice is very much involved in the humanity within dance, approaching a story based in an important historical event was new to Stephen Mills. He was interested in how people relate to one another and feels that dance has the ability to express, in a metaphoric way, emotion that words cannot capture. Throughout his study of the Holocaust, he became fixated on memory and the ways in which people cope with disaster and loss. He wondered what conversations survivors have with themselves over the 70 years since the end of World War II. This concept is introduced with the image of a survivor who comforts her younger self and relives her story.
Through the Biblical story of Adam and Eve, the circle of life begins. Civilizations develop; families and cultures evolve to include a pattern of daily life and valued traditions, like a wedding. However, change is imminent; the ground is shifting, and what is familiar slowly disappears. Certain populations are deemed to be inferior, and then targeted and isolated. They are degraded to the point of being perceived as non-human, and life or death is determined by powers outside of their control. People are treated as property and transported to camps. Overwhelming numbers do not survive the trip. Even within a prison, the circular nature of life continues. Acts of brutality, courage, defiance and anger occur in captivity. Eventually, though, we all face death, and do so alone. However, the circle continues; lives and families are rebuilt. This is not every survivor's story, but is the one Stephen humbly seeks to tell.
A frenzied flurry of hands and lights opens a ballet scene depicting the story of Adam and Eve.
But the scene soon turns somber. This ballet isn’t about the biblical beginnings, but rather the horrors of the Holocaust and the price of hatred. The ballet is based on the story of Naomi Warren, a Holocaust survivor who was held in three concentration camps and lost most of her family during World War II. The ballet premiered in Austin, Texas in 2005 and has since been replicated across the United States. Now it’s coming to Israel for the first time.
Within a small rectangle of light, nearly a dozen dancers writhed and convulsed on the stage, pressed together by imaginary walls denoting some kind of death chamber.
For 12 minutes, a deafening air raid siren reverberates through the theater, as one-by-one the dancers fall out of the light, and roll into the darkness. The abstract scene with its single spotlight could represent a church in Rwanda, a labor camp in Cambodia or a gas chamber in Europe.
Choreographer Stephen Mills said his ballet, entitled "Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project," is about all of those places—and any place—where intolerance turns into violence and genocide. ‘There is a reason you don't see a boxcar, because it's not about the boxcar. It's about being forced into a situation against your will, into a situation where you are dehumanized, where you are treated less than (human), and what that does to you,’ Mills explained at the downtown Ballet Austin headquarters.
Art can’t change the world. People change the world.
But art can act as a catalyst for change. Art can inspire and motivate people to be better through the creation of understanding. Through metaphor and allusion, art can teach difficult knowledge in ways words are incapable.
As a choreographer trying to effect change in my community, I am more fully engaged in this ideal than ever before. My work on “Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project” began with a search to find a deeper meaning within my artistic practice. Propelled by a great sense of loss after the events of 9/11, I never imagined this search would lead me to Holocaust survivor Naomi Warren and the catastrophic events she endured as a young woman. The destruction and loss during World War II and the Holocaust were immense.