Shedding a Light

A foray into a darker artistic territory led to the creation of Stephen Mills' Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, a timeless work about genocide. Performed by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre this month, the ballet is augmented with educational events aimed at raising human-rights awareness.



Dancers Erin Halloran and Nurlan Abougaliev perform in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of Stephen Mills' Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project. Photo: Rieder Photography

For dance maker Stephen Mills, choreography is a puzzle with thousands of possible solutions and finding the right configuration is the challenge that inspires him. When he embarked on his choreographic journey for Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project, he also discovered that dance can be a teaching tool.

"Art can be a catalyst for learning if we ask the right questions, and dance can teach outside its own discipline," says Mills, artistic director of Ballet Austin and recipient of a 2006 Humanitarian Award from Austin's Anti-Defamation League. "Human rights are one of the most important issues that we deal with today."

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, Mills questioned the relevance of classical ballet in current society. "9/11 was a catastrophic event for all of us as Americans. I was looking for a way - as were other artists - to have a deeper conversation with people," says Mills, who has choreographed more than 40 works.

His friend Mary Lee Webeck, director of education and of the Warren Fellowships at the Holocaust Museum Houston, relentlessly urged him to focus a ballet on the Holocaust.

"I didn't feel that I had the moral authority to address the subject matter," says the Kentucky native, who is not Jewish and has no ties to the Holocaust. Webeck introduced him to Naomi Warren, a native of Poland who was imprisoned in three concentration camps, including Auschwitz, and lost her entire family during the pogrom. "Naomi convinced me that we've all been affected by the Holocaust. If I had a platform for human rights, then I had a duty to do so. For me, this paradigm shift was a profound moment," he says.

Mills participated in the Warren Fellowship's intensive Holocaust-education course; visited Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic and Israel; toured former death camps, and met with survivors. "It was a very emotional project. Each of the 25 survivors I spoke with said, 'You have to talk about the future. Our children are the symbols of survival.'"

Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., downtown.
Nov. 12-15: Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.
$20.50-$88.50
Tickets: 412/456-6666
PBT info
Info on related exhibits, events and performances

Loosely based on Warren's experiences and those of other survivors, the uninterrupted 75-minute contemporary ballet underscores suffering guided by hope. "Absence is a theme that runs through the ballet. I thought that minimalist music would be appropriate," says Mills, who chose scores by Steve Reich, Evelyn Glennie, Michael Gordon, Arvo Pärt and Philip Glass. He crafted gestures, deconstructed movements and employed an abstract classical-ballet vocabulary, but avoided literal imagery.

Mills choreographed the finale in 2004 for American Ballet Theatre Studio Co. and interpolated his award-winning Ashes (1998) - an emotionally charged ballet about a survivor of the Holocaust and the time spent and the relationships formed in a concentration camp - into the fourth section. Of the work's remaining segments, which include pieces titled "Houses," "Siren" and "Hush," Mills says that the wedding dance, a complex ensemble piece that's used to convey the idea of ordinary lives before something catastrophic happens, was the most difficult to choreograph. On the other hand, the 12-minute "Train," depicting the transport of prisoners, was completed in two days.

PBT is the first company after Ballet Austin to perform the ballet. "He's adapting it to fit a smaller stage, which opens up other touring possibilities," notes Harris Ferris, PBT's executive director, who was instrumental in acquiring the production. "Doing a work like this is part of our mission to present meaningful content, not just entertainment," he says, adding that the project also includes audience education. "They will know what they're going to see. It [the ballet] is troubling; the music is at times grating, but it also has lovely dance passages."

Preparations for the Pittsburgh premiere have been under way for more than a year. In late August, the troupe participated in a two-day seminar held in Pittsburgh and at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Plus, the dancers were encouraged to read additional materials. PBT's seven-member steering committee formed community partnerships and collaborations with local groups, including the Holocaust Center of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, to organize community events.

Starting in October and continuing through the ballet's Nov. 12-15 run are more than 15 exhibits, lectures, performances and films on the subject of the Holocaust. Among them are presentations by the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music and the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh.

"PBT is doing a wonderful project around the piece," says Mills, who supervised similar events that wrapped around the Austin premiere. He encourages audiences to partake of the offerings, but notes that his ballet can be understood on its own. "I hope that people will come to the performances with open minds - learning is integral to our lives," he says. "For me, ballets come when they're ready. I didn't seek this out. But I learned that, as a choreographer, I can't be afraid to take a stand and say something."

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.
Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

The Heinz History Center’s World War II traveling exhibit focuses on western Pennsylvania’s ties to history.
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

The nonprofit's founding President and CEO will leave her position early next year.
Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

After a Stanley Cup-winning season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one player’s wife is working on her own claim to fame.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Watch: Jameson Taillon's Remarkable Recovery

Sports media company Whistle Sports documented Pirates pitcher Jameson Taillon's recovery workout regime.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

Dish Osteria and Bar To Close

The beloved Pittsburgh institution will serve its last meal in April.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

Voodoo Brewery is an enticing alternative to the many chains in and around the Waterfront.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

The miniature bath- and shower-oil collection from Aromatherapy Associates makes every shower a luxury experience.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

Reviews of two films appearing at the 2017 Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival: "I, Daniel Blake," and "The Eagle Huntress." Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Combating the Cold: How This Couple Pulled Off Their Winter Wedding

Happy to see warmer weather? This gorgeous winter wedding may actually have you missing the snow.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Special Delivery: Creating a Rustic Woodlands Nursery

Special Delivery: Creating a Rustic Woodlands Nursery

Local art teacher Chris Galiyas used inspiration from his son’s name, Arrow, and his first home with his wife to create a heartfelt, whimsical baby room.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

The Outdoor Recreation Club becomes the newest student organization at the college.

Comments