Three years ago, I faced a challenge. I was cast in a dance called, Schindler’s List. This was a piece based on the movie directed by Steven Spielberg and, of course, by the events of the Holocaust. As a dancer for many years, this endeavor, for the lack of a better word, was scary. I had performed pieces to pop music, classical music, and Broadway tunes. I had performed in the styles of jazz, ballet, tap, and musical theatre. However, this was different and it felt different. I, as an artist, felt for the first time that I have an obligation in my work.
I have a responsibility to perform this piece so that the audience will glimpse history. It was not enough to perform the choreography. It was not enough to execute the movements on the proper count and go to the correct formation. I had to really feel what those innocent people were feeling while being tortured in concentration camps. I had to create raw emotion on stage. I had to become the victim first and foremost, then let the movements tell the story.
There was one segment in the dance that I will never forget performing. I was required to be a “mother” and watch my child die. At one point, it was staged that I look upon the child and carry her dead body off stage. I felt that I had to, “do that scene justice” because this was a representation of real people. In honor of those victims the scene had to be flawless. This was not for my sake as a dancer, or the choreographer’s sake, but for theirs, the Holocaust victims.
I looked back at that piece on video time and time again. I realized that the piece meant something and had purpose. The dance portrayed a historical event. It transferred an emotional energy into the audience. It showed that while the torture the victims endured was horrific, they are now in a better place. Though the events of the holocaust are unsettling and unimaginable we have a moral obligation to acknowledge their occurrence and respect those who died.
After this realization, I came to an even more extraordinary conclusion. All art must mean something. All dances contain some meaning. Even if the purpose is simply to entertain, that is still its purpose or meaning. The ballets tell a story, even if it is about a girl discovering sugar plum fairies and finding a boyfriend that happens to be a nutcracker. It is still a meaning and the work still contains a purpose. The difference in the Schindler’s List piece was it was the first time I had to perform a drama. The piece was not light or funny, it was serious and haunting. I would argue that’s the best kind of art.
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