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A few weeks ago, I posted the most commonly asked questions about our show. One of them was about how the dancers in the company deal with the emotionally heavy subject matter of the show. One patron even asked what the hardest chapter was to perform.
None of these chapters are particularly sunny, but the hardest chapter for me is one of the most uplifting in the show: Chapter 22:Tattoo.
In this chapter, Elli’s ailing mother is revived by a sudden rain fall. Elli and her fellow prisoners open their mouths to the sky, tasting their first untainted gulps of water in months. Many of these prisoners are on the verge of death from thirst, starvation, and overwork, and this sudden downpour gives new life to the shattered lives of the inmates.
It’s supposed to be an uplifting—if haunting—chapter, and is one of the few times we see the inmates in the concentration camp rejoice, if only for a short while.
I suppose that’s what makes this chapter so hard for me. This was the first chapter where I felt a visceral connection to the material, and helped me find my way into the rest of the show. It was hard for me to put myself into the shoes of these people—especially because you know that these were real lives of those who lived and died. My brain understood the connection, but I couldn’t tie my emotions to the thoughts.
Until Chapter 22.
For me, I spend the first half of the number facing the back, which gives me time to settle into the abandoned music box quality of the music. I remember looking forward to the next break during our first rehearsal of the number, because I was dying for a drink of water.
It hit me like a sucker punch to the gut.
I could see the span of what I might feel in a similar situation. I would hate the people who were slowly killing me, hate that no one did anything to stop them, I would hate myself for my body’s weakness. I would think that everyone—even God—had abandoned me.
And that was the point in the music where the “rain” began.
Was this an answer to my prayers, or just a cruel trick of nature? I couldn’t help but wonder who else might have had those thoughts during the actual event. And the relief from the rain brought a dangerous emotion: hope.
There is a safety in being locked in the grim routine of the camps, in not caring about the future. But to hope? Hope gives you something to lose in a place where you cannot afford to fall behind.
As I realized this, far from the tragedies of the concentration camps, I was again astounded at the incredibly courage of Elli and her family. To continue to have such hope, even in the darkest of circumstances must have been almost impossible to sustain. And yet she did. And still does, in fact.
So while Chapter 22 may be one of the most difficult portions for me to perform, it is also the most humbling and inspiring of the passages. I can never truly understand the suffering of those who went through the Holocaust, only someone who lived it can. But this chapter, to me at least, reflects the greater message of this show and memoir: a message of hope and compassion even in times of terrible darkness.
I would love to hear what my fellow dancers have to say about their toughest or most inspiring moments in the show, if only to give me a break from rejecting the spam comments!