Now I don’t expect people to be experts on the subject matter—I’m certainly not one myself—but some of these kids couldn’t even answer name which country Adolf Hitler led during WWII. Another student thought that WWII was waged 300 years ago!
This is a critical gap in our education system. In past blogs I’ve explored how ignorance and indifference fueled the Holocaust grow from one extremist party to a world war, and the danger lurks not just in the past, but in the present. When we hide ignorance and hate, or ignore its potency, we give it room to grow untended. We cannot prevent the Holocaust in 2013, but we can use the knowledge gained from the experience to combat genocide today.
The video makes an excellent point that these students are not to blame for their ignorance, but their lack of education. As a teacher’s daughter, I know just how that time is almost as tight as money in public schools. But I also know that the responsibility of education does not fall solely on the shoulders of the teachers themselves, but on each and every member of the community.
This particularly applies to the arts. I’m sure we’ve all heard about arts funding being the first to go in budget cuts, and I’ve heard many debate about the usefulness about the arts and humanities at all. Shouldn’t we have more doctors, more engineers, more teachers!
The answer is yes, of course! But we also have a vital need for those who can see the whole story, and tell it to the engineers, the doctors, the teachers, the lawyers. Armed with that information, they can do their work that much better. But how can a doctor treat a wound they don’t know about?
This is why I Have Lived a Thousand Years and other educational projects from outside of schools are so vital. We can provide vital support to our struggling schools and give direction to the students of tomorrow, whether they want to be dancer or a doctor.
It doesn’t take much to made a difference. A 90 minute show can be the introduction of a new generation to a brighter future.
Gabriella Rose Lamboy is Stretch Dance Co.’s costume designer. Gabriella talks about the challenges she faced designing I Have Lived a Thousand Years that was both realistic and accommodating to the demanding choreography for the dancers.
I wanted to be historically accurate when designing the women’s prisoner uniforms, but I also needed to accommodate the dancers. The actual uniforms were made with a very stiff, scratchy cotton fabric – which is not ideal to dance in.
I spent a day in the LA Fashion District on a hunt for the right charcoal grey fabric. The hard part was finding a fabric that was stretchy, but would still appear thick onstage. After a full day’s search, I finally found the perfect fabric in the last store I went to! The rest of my shopping list was easy: notions, buttons and paint.
I started by using a regular men’s polo shirt as a pattern. I cut it into sections and made the pieces longer to create more of a dress-like shape. I then sewed all the pieces together, added buttons, and hemmed the dresses. But was I finished?
After creating eight perfect uniforms it was time to grunge down. I used a seam ripper to distress the uniforms, adding frayed edges and ripping holes. Some uniforms got a bit extra treatment because they needed to look more worn for the women who had been imprisoned longer.
As a finishing touch, I watered down acrylic paint and used a sponge to add dirt and sweat stains, focusing on the areas that would get the grossest: the bottom hem and underarms.
But that wasn’t quite enough. To complete the look, I spattered various yellows and browns to give the look of mud and other unmentionable stains. Lyndell wanted the dancers to feel disgusted putting the costumes on, and I think I was able to achieve that. (Laura’s note: object achieved!)
The most rewarding part of this experience was getting to see my costumes transform into the people from the memoir under the stage lights. It was emotional–and a little bit sickening–how real the grotesque makeup and costumes seemed.
This is a very powerful show and I am excited to see how it transforms to better educate future generations.
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!
First off, all of us at Stretch Dance Co. would like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who came to our preview show this past weekend! It was an incredible experience for us to show you what we’ve been working on. For those of you who missed it, don’t worry! We’ll still be posting videos and updates on our Twitter, Facebook, and website, so…
This weekend was a great opportunity for us at Stretch because it was the first time that we got to hear some audience feedback. Some of the questions were expected, some took us by surprise. Here are some of the top FAQs from our audience:
How do you deal with the emotional strain of a show about the Holocaust? (This was the most asked question by far!)
While I Have Lived a Thousand Years is a very inspirational account, the Holocaust will never be—and should never be—a light-hearted subject matter. That being said, we’ve joked about getting a puppy to cheer us up after particularly rough rehearsals.
It helps to know that the Dr. Livia Bitton-Jackson is still well, and lives a very full life in spite of her traumatic experiences. Lyndell linked us to a phenomenal interview with her, and it is amazing to see her composure and gentle spirit (you can check it out here if you want to see! You can create a log in for free). For me, it helps to know that by bringing her story to life through dance, we are hopefully preventing its recurrence.
Which orchestra played for the soundtracks?
No orchestra, just one man! Our composer, Robby Greengold digitally compiles all the music and different instruments to create the tracks. We hope to raise enough funds to eventually hire an orchestra to record the tracks, but for now, we make do with Robby’s one-man band!
Do they still teach the Holocaust in public schools?
Most curriculums cover at least some portion of the Holocaust. However, as budgets steadily grow tighter and resources are stretched thinner, students today may not get the same exposure to the material as past classes. I remember visiting the Museum of Tolerance several times while I was in school, but some schools now cannot afford even the buses for field trips.
Furthermore, our production is a fresh perspective of the Holocaust. Many people in the audience were surprised at certain facts from the memoir, particularly in what the prisoners were forced to eat and drink. Our production can round out and fill in the holes in the current high school curriculum.
Is everyone in the cast Jewish?
Nope! Some of us are, but others in the cast are not. Just as we come from many different dance disciplines, we all come from different backgrounds, but we all feel strongly about the subject of compassion and tolerance.
How can I get involved?
Contact email@example.com to see how you can get involved! And of course, don’t forget to follow us on our social media! Or you can…
A post from the author’s granddaughter, Laura Faiwiszewski!
Not to be confused with the eloquent writer of the Stretch Dance Company blog, my name is also Laura (I like this guest blogger–she should do a blog every week–the other Laura), and I am one of Livia Bitton-Jackson’s granddaughters.
I heard about the I Have Lived a Thousand Years dance production from my grandmother, and I was immediately excited with the idea of the project. Telling the story of the Holocaust through dance, and a story about my own grandmother’s experiences to top it all off, sounded like an amazing way to honor the memories of those who perished, as well as an inspiring way to teach our present generation about the lessons of the horrible cruelty of the Nazis. While the Holocaust happened over half a century ago, it is still very relevant, and I know that this production will prove that to its audience.
I would like to share a little bit about myself. I am currently an undergraduate student in Rutgers University in New Jersey and majoring in Psychology. I am active among the Jewish community on campus, as I served on the Hillel student board (an organization that creates opportunities for Jewish students to celebrate and explore their Jewish identity at over 500 university campuses) and I always make sure to be involved in Pro-Israel programming. On another note, although it has almost nothing to do with my major, I have a passion for dance.
This past year I took a few different dance courses through Mason Gross, Rutgers school for the arts, and I just loved every minute of them (though if I were to be completely honest with myself, I must admit that I’m not the most coordinated or best dancer).
There is just something so special about dance than enables one to express his or her emotions through movement, and it can be as equally emotional and cathartic for an audience. That, along with the actual fun of dancing and improvisation, made me fall in love with dance.
So why am I writing a blog post for the Stretch Dance Company? What inspires me to want to take part in this production, even though I live across the country and can contribute very little to the process?
Well, for starters, my grandmother has always taught me that the Holocaust has very important lessons that must be shared with the rest of the world. I always find myself sharing my grandmother’s story with my peers and passing along her book, because I understand how important it is to constantly share that information. The Holocaust was a very dark time in world history, and it wasn’t only a tragedy among the Jewish people. At least 5 million people, such as homosexuals, gypsies, people with disabilities, and others were brutally murdered, along with the 6 million+ Jews that were killed.
The Holocaust was a violation against humanity as a whole, not just against these specific groups. It is important to learn from the cruelties and evilness of the Holocaust, but it is also important to remember the kindness and heroism that took place.
Many Jews continued to secretly practice their religion in the camps, even though they knew they would be killed if caught, because the hope and inspiration they got from their rituals gave them the strength to continue to survive.
There were gentiles who hid Jews in their houses to keep them safe, even though they were putting their own families in danger as a result. Many inspirational stories come out of the Holocaust that teach us to never give up hope, to stand up against evil, and to always help those who need it.
This coming semester, I will be interning through the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, teaching children and teenagers in public schools about the Holocaust. Teaching the world about this black mark in our history is something that is so important to me, because I really believe it is important to learn from the mistakes of those before us to make sure it never happens again for anyone.
That is why I think this production is so incredible- it sets out to teach people of our generation about the cruelties that can take place, as well as the kindness and hope that can be used to combat hatred.
Stretch Dance Company’s production of I Have Lived a Thousand Years will convey the lessons of the Holocaust in a new way, as it will be expressed through the powerful tool of dance. It will give the audience a new way to relate to and to understand the Holocaust. I’m sure this production will give its audience the motivation to fight against hate and to create a brighter future. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
This week I thought we’d take a little break from Holocaust history and take a look at the rehearsal process that goes into building a show like I Have Lived a Thousand Years. If you watched last week’s video, you already have a bit of an idea of what goes on (if you haven’t seen it, then go watch it now!).
Since rehearsal is once a week, the first few minutes are filled with a lot of hugging and weekly recaps of our lives. Some of us have known each other from previous shows and start dusting off old inside jokes (This is also the point where we make loud comments about how sore we are in the hope that Lyndell will go easy on us during warm up).
Spoiler alert: she never does.
Lyndell’s warm up is a mix between classical ballet and the exercise routine that Rocky Balboa abandoned because it left him in tears each day. Since we have dancers ranging from hip hop to contemporary to flamenco, the warm up gets on the same page as far as dance technique goes.
It also serves as a great bonding experience. If I Have Lived a Thousand Years doesn’t work out, this company has great potential as a standup comedy act, so long as we performing under balletic duress.
After warm up, the rehearsal really gets going.
Lyndell’s way of approaching dance pieces is different from any other choreographer that I’ve worked with. She spends a lot of time talking us through the piece, not only telling us the context, but the greater meaning behind the dance and how it relates to the rest of the show, and the arc of our emotions throughout. We may even get a bit of a history lesson.
By this point, the jokes have died out and everyone has their game faces on. Each week brings a challenge: sometimes it’s just trying to perform the dance steps correctly or manage traffic patterns. Other weeks, it’s hard to connect to the emotional turmoil of those who went through the Holocaust.
Once we finish the day’s group piece, Lyndell works with some of the soloists. Anyone can stay behind and learn the solo, but most give into hunger pangs and grab a bite to eat. Our social media expert Matt catches a few interviews with some of the dancers, and that’s a wrap!
Be sure to stay on the lookout for the pics and videos coming out this week! We learned an extra dance for National Dance Day, so mark your Saturday calendar!
I’ve run into a bit of a conundrum when discussing I Have Live a Thousand Years to friends. I get very excited talking about the company, but I often lose them a bit when I explain that our production is about the Holocaust.
“Isn’t that depressing?” They ask.
Well, it is and it isn’t.
The Holocaust is inarguably one of the greatest tragedies of the modern age, but for every tale of incredible horror, there is an equally incredible tale of heroism. I recently came across one survivor’s incredible story and his cunning and courage had me floored the entire time. If you have a few minutes, you have to listen to how he successfully escaped from the concentration camps…twice. It’s unbelievable.
I think that people often get bogged down when faced with situations as terrible and terrifying as the Holocaust, and often believe that they are too small to change anything in something as huge as say, the Nazi movement.
What I love about Livia Bitton-Jackon’s account is the incredible thread of hope and compassion that she sustains throughout her ordeal. Bitton-Jackson, known as Ellie in her memoir, survives thanks to incredibly small acts of compassion, but those small acts often save her life.
It is as simple as a Nazi guard not reporting her when she is visited by her neighbors, of fellow Jewish prisoners risking their lives to move Ellie’s mother out of the infirmary before she was scheduled to be killed, or even the Angel of Death himself, Josef Mengele, telling Ellie to lie about her age when she steps into Auschwitz (starting next week I’ll start a brief Cliff Notes version of the book so you can follow along!).
Many of these acts you can’t even really call kindnesses, such as a guard nearly beating her to death instead of executing her, but that fraction of an ounce of mercy vouchsafes her another day of life. Yes, her story is still a terrifying account of the evil of mankind, but also of the incredible strength of even the tiniest doses of human compassion.
It is so humbling to work with this material and the irrepressible hope of these people even as they systematically murdered. It is also inspiring to see that no act of kindness, of compassion is useless. Ellie’s proves that even the tiniest of gestures can mean the difference between life and death, between hope and despair.
We can turn away from images of cruelty—and it is natural to do so. But it is only by facing the truth of what happened then that we can confront what is happening now, and what will happen in the future.
“It is your generation’s responsibility to rebuke racism, anti-Semitism, hatred, discrimination…to learn something about the past so that [the Holocaust] will never ever happen again.” – Emery Jacoy, Holocaust survivor
A few weeks ago, Lyndell lead a history session to help educate the company about WWII, the Holocaust, and dispelling some of the myths about the people involved.
What struck me the most from our discussion was when I heard that Hitler learned to read from anti-Semitic pamphlets. I can’t help but wonder: What if the first things that Hitler had read hadn’t been couched in ignorance and hate? What if he had read about new technology, or music, or even something as mundane as farming?
I’m sure it took more than a few pamphlets to lead him down the dark road to the Holocaust, but I find it significant and tragically ironic that the materials he used to educate himself were based in falsehoods and generalizations. Those pamphlets were not the cause of the Holocaust and the terror visited on those involved, but they were the first step towards genocide.
When we talk about the evils of the Holocaust, we often focus on hatred and racism as its strongest factors. For me, however, I see another theme that runs through the history of WWII: ignorance.
I was particularly struck by this while reading I Have Lived a Thousand Years. Part of the motivation for eliminating the Jews was the German obsession with eugenics, the idea of breeding out undesirable traits. For Germans during this time, blonde hair and blue eyes signified a superior human being.
For us, the concept is laughable. Why should blue eyes indicate a higher level of intelligence? And yet, the most powerful men behind the Holocaust believed in it so much, they were willing to systematically murder over 11 million “undesirables.”
Genocide does not begin with burning bodies, but with burning books. Those at the head of these murders often try to hide that the victims are people just like us, despite different coloring, religion, or anything else that pseudo-science may try to classify.
I truly believe that knowledge is our greatest shield against such depravity, and that ignorance is evil’s strongest weapon. This is why I believe so strongly in Lyndell’s vision for our production of I Have Lived a Thousand Years.
By breathing life into the very human lives the passed through those dark gates, we can take one step towards combating that ignorance and prove that any tolerance of hate is dangerous.
The next world leaders are sitting in classrooms right now. What are we teaching them? Are we teaching them to hate, as Hitler learned? Or are we teaching them the bravery to face the truth, and the courage to do something about it?
Stretch Dance Co.’s makeup designer Brittany Vardakas has recently returned from Israel. Read about her experiences in Jerusalem and the Holocaust History Museum.
I feel as if I have just returned from another world; a place where the spirit of hardship and suffering still lingers, and yet a feeling of faith somehow trumps all the pain.
I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel. You enter the museum by walking down a small hill where a video plays of Jews living a normal life, doing daily duties, people shopping, and children playing.
As you stop to watch the images flash by, you find yourself getting more involved. The change happens so gradually that you don’t spot what’s wrong at first. Shops start to close down, streets look less busy, and you see more people sleeping outside and begging for food. Just before the video goes to blank, you see them: the Nazis.
You’ve been so involved in the video that you didn’t realize that you’re in a triangle shaped building that zigzags through till the end. You feel trapped; the only way out is to walk all the way through.
So your journey starts.
During your walk, you start with the history of Hitler. You see the tools of the trade of genocide: photos are posted everywhere, there are videos playing and displays of clothing, books, and propaganda, even hair samples that they would use to prove that you were a Jew.
You feel hatred, but it is the small things, the normal things that hit you the hardest. You see children’s toys, books, bikes, and clothing while you look at photos of tiny faces, as lost to us now as their toys were to them.
Your heart grows heavy. You think, why? The worst for me was when I had to walk over the shoes that were collected from the prisoners before they entered a concentration camp. It’s the feeling of losing something so simple that we take for granted everyday.
The last room you enter is filled with black books containing the names of the victims. There are so many books, but some have many blank pages as well, as they are still trying to get all the names of the victims.
At this point you’re exhausted.
You think that nothing can redeem, can ease the suffering of those people. You can’t even begin to put yourself in their footsteps. What it could have been like. How much pain they went through each day.
And yet I have seen Orthodox men and women in their daily lives; walking around, praying, and playing with their children. I wonder how many of these people are descendants of that tragedy. Maybe some of their parents and grandparents had shoes in that pile, maybe their sister left a toy in that display.
Despite having their hair cut off, being stripped of their clothing, being stripped of their humanity, these people have never lost sight of God. Their faith is something so beautiful and unbreakable. Their love for God is out of this world.
This trip has not yet set in with me yet. Trying to explain what I saw and what I experienced is still hard because it was so overwhelming. My life has been changed.
Hello and welcome to Stretch Dance Co.’s blog! While you’re waiting for this week’s amazing video, I’ll be satisfying your curiosity about the latest Stretch Dance Co. news, the dancers, the rehearsal process, and even a little bit of history.
Who am I? I’m Laura Rensing, one of the dancers in I Have Lived a Thousand Years. This is my first Stretch production, but I’ve been dancing since I was three years old! These days I perform a lot of musical theater, but I am thrilled to, ahem, stretch my boundaries. You can probably spot me in some of Matt’s photos of the rehearsal process (I’m usually the one with flowers in my hair!).
You may be wondering why I’m writing this blog in place of our fearless leader, Lyndell Higgins, Executive Artistic Director of Stretch Dance Co. Lyndell has been developing this production for the past three years and can probably recite the book backwards, to say nothing of her knowledge of the history surrounding it.
For me, like many of us, the Holocaust dredges up memories of dusty textbooks and black-and-white photos of skeletal prisoners, a frozen image of history, an event relegated to the past tense.
But the reality is that the ripples of the Holocaust touch the tragedies of today’s society. History books would say that genocide ended the day Auschwitz was liberated; reality proves otherwise.
When we look at the Holocaust as history, we leave it there. In the concentration camps, Jews dehumanized and tattooed with serial numbers. We have given them new numbers in place of their names: statistics, casualties, facts, but we forget that over 11 million people lived and breathed, as well as died in the Holocaust.
Lyndell, of course, knows this already. Her vision for I Have Lived a Thousand Years is not a judgment about what happened, but a timeless lesson about the incredible strength of human compassion that arises even in the midst of unimaginable cruelty.
She has lived and breathed these lives working on this project, but I come with a new set of eyes, discovering new lessons even as you do.
I hope that by sharing my discoveries with you, we can give these countless victims a legacy beyond the grim chambers of the concentration camps, and a brighter future for future generations.