A Dancer’s Perspective: Dancing Through the Darkest Moments

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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.

Stretch - Tattoo1

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.

The rest of the dancers stand in the back during Anne’s touching solo.

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! 


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3 thoughts on “A Dancer’s Perspective: Dancing Through the Darkest Moments”

  1. I agree Tattoo was a tough one. I personally got very emotional during one of the dress rehearsals when we had to write our numbers on our arms. I remember thinking, “I really don’t like writing on myself, this is going to look so ugly!” Then remembering that the women must have been thinking the exact same thing only it wasn’t washable marker they were using, it was a real tattoo. The hardest and most emotional chapter for me was chapter 14. It is the first time we come out in our prisoner uniforms. The first time I saw myself in full make up and costume I nearly broke down in tears. I was don’t think I’ve ever looked like that. I’m always in pretty dresses and flawless make up in productions; not this one. The part where I fall to the floor because the food fell was very intense for me. I have never been that hungry to where I would eat ANYTHING off the floor. To bring myself to that level of desperation and hunger was very emotionally draining. It was a very challenging yet humbling experience. The entire production made me appreciate the things I have to a much more extreme level.

  2. For me the most difficult part is Ch. 38 portraying the death of the Father Marcus. It is difficult because of the intensity of what the characters are going through and therefore makes the movement a challenge. Athough some of the choreography isn’t difficult, the emotion and intention of the character has to shine through that movement. It is where we find out that Marcus died only a few days before liberation. There is the pain leading up to the moment of death and the grieving afterwards. There is also the idea of Marcus watching over his son, letting him know that he will be ok and that it’s ok to carry on. All these things have to come through even the smallest of gestures which is why I found it difficult because it is quite emotional.

  3. From the choreography standpoint, the most difficult piece for me was Chapter 14, “Born In the Showers.” Although the movement is fairly simple with regard to technique, so much has to be shown with the movement. This is the first time we see the women in the camp and we have to establish a very complicated C.R.O.W. (Character, Relationship, Objective, Where) immediately. My main focus was to reveal how it FEELS to go through what these women were going through. How does it feel to march in the scorching sun, how does it feel to move heavy dirt from one side of the camp to the other, how does it feel to be starving, how does it feel to be thirsty? I think we all can logically understand that these women were starving, but what does that mean? It took me longer than usual to completely develop the walking pattern of the women. I broke it down into three truths: starvation, manual labor, and unyielding rules. My goal with dance is to not ever use shock to get my point across, but rather use honesty. This was difficult with what Calista mentions above. I gave Calista one of the most gruesome moments in this piece of eating off the floor. Although this is shocking, it is very honest. If you were starving and the only thing you could eat was on the floor, you would eat it. I think that moment made the piece very real. It was difficult to watch even for me.

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