Arts » Theater + Dance

A ballet - based on the Holocaust

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Freddie Kelvin is all about seizing the day, particularly with cameras in tow. Neither timidity nor temerity deters his reasoning. On short notice, he flew this September to Israel, specifically Akko (or Acre). Kelvin, who often photographs DK and Indianapolis School of Ballet performances, describes Akko as "an ancient city of great beauty on the coast of northern Israel in the Western Galilee, with an essentially peaceful mixed Jewish and Arab population."

Paul Michael Bloodgood and Aara Krumpe - FREDDIE KELVIN
  • Freddie Kelvin
  • Paul Michael Bloodgood and Aara Krumpe

The enticement was documenting Ballet Austin's first international performance of their widely lauded ballet, Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project. Other performances took place later in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, "ironically, in the auditorium for the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann," Kelvin notes.

Kelvin says he first heard about the performances during a 2012 steering meeting between the Jewish Federations of North America and Israel's Western Galilee. After that, "There was no hesitation in my mind that I would go to Akko," he says.

Ballet Austin's choreographer and artistic director Stephen Mills created the ballet in response to the 9/11 terror attacks. It's based not on the stories of 9/11 survivors but on that of Naomi Warren, who survived three concentration camps but lost most of her family in World War II.

Premiered in 2005, the ballet is part of a community-wide project in which awareness of the Holocaust and all manifestations of intolerance and hatred are discussed. It is performed only in communities willing to embrace open discourse along such lines. Neither Mills nor any of the dancers are Jewish.

Kelvin was enlisted to document all Ballet Austin activities in the Western Galilee, alongside Israeli photographer Yochanan Kishon.

Photographs by Kishon and Kelvin will be exhibited in Israeli communities by Partnership, and will be used by Ballet Austin and the Akko Festival for promotional and marketing purposes. Plans are being formulated for a possible exhibition in Indianapolis.

"The dancers all are hugely affected by the events they depict," Kelvin reports. "Akko audience members, many who in all likelihood had family members who suffered similar unimaginable circumstances, expressed the belief that today's youth can access the issues of the Holocaust more readily through dance than by more traditional approaches.

"This was a learning experience for me; a wake-up call I didn't anticipate. Awareness and action countering all forms of discrimination and bigotry is a life-long commitment that I believe we should all make. If we do not, what hope remains for mankind?"

The ballet starts with the joy of the beginning of life and the development of families. This all changes as individuals become isolated from each other. For 12 searing minutes a deafening air-raid siren screeches as the startled dancers, one by one, fall backwards into a dark void. This scene is unremittingly haunting. People are no longer individuals but property transported to camps and all too frequently to death. Only victims are shown in the ballet, never the perpetrators. The work concludes, as requested by Naomi Warren, on a note of hope.

A daylong symposium on the Holocaust and related themes took place at the local college; during a panel discussion with Stephen Mills and Rami Beer, another Holocaust choreographer, Yochanan and I sat on either side of a very old lady. She scowled; I don't think she wanted us there, waving our obscenely long cameras. Between photographing the panelists, I glanced at this lady's left forearm, stamped with blue numbers that identified her as a Holocaust survivor.

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