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

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to 1 million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Trees around the campus of the University of Pittsburgh are filled with nesting crows, and many students are wondering why.
Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Inside the Ultimate Man vs. Machine Poker Match in Pittsburgh

Four of the world’s best poker players are playing 120,000 hands of Heads-Up No-Limit Texas Hold’em against Libratus, the poker-playing bot created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists.
See How Chess Made Le’Veon Bell a Better Running Back

See How Chess Made Le’Veon Bell a Better Running Back

Watch the video that reveals Bell’s talents that go beyond the football field.
RMU President Named to College Football Playoff Committee

RMU President Named to College Football Playoff Committee

Chris Howard will help decide which four teams will vie each year for college football’s national championship.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

The Best Bars in Pittsburgh Right Now

Many Pittsburgh bars have solid beer lists, well-mixed cocktails or a bartender who's handy with a shot and a story. We need more than that. What makes these bars the best?
View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

View Pittsburgh & Its People From The 1850s Through Today

#pixburgh: A Photographic Experience features images from the Sen. John Heinz History Center vault, which contains close to 1 million images. The show features a sampling of 400 images from the 1850s through today — including landmarks, fun, folly and floods.
In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

In Concert: What's Next for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra?

Melia Tourangeau, CEO and president of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, looks to lead the ensemble forward after a discordant strike.
Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Restaurant Review: Umami in Lawrenceville

Umami sets the bar for izakaya openings in Pittsburgh. But its owners still have steps to take to keep raising the standard.
Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

Daytripping: Have Musket, Will Travel

The rest is history at ye olde Colonial Williamsburg, the former capital of Virginia and now a restored revolutionary war-era village.
Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

Talk of the Tahn: The Consequences of Trespassing

I snuck into a steel mill. Bethlehem, Pa. I’d been bragging about how big Pittsburgh’s industrial ruins were when a woman in a bar told me, “Bethlehem’s are bigger.” Size matters.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Oakland Crows: A Big Mess but a Harmless Murder

Trees around the campus of the University of Pittsburgh are filled with nesting crows, and many students are wondering why.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Restaurant Industry Fundraiser to Aid Injured Chef

Zach Behm was chef de cuisine at Cure in Upper Lawrenceville at the time of a July car wreck.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The Trendy New East Liberty Hangout ... Primanti's?

The latest outpost of the popular local chain is housed in the former Verde space in Garfield.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

Tomlin Needs to Be Tomlin Against Brady, Belichick

The Steelers are going to have to attack the game to survive it, to grab it by the throat and choke it to the desired conclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Tantalizing Textiles for the Table

Check out the chic decor from Pittsburgh-based artist and designer Janice Nelson.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Shyamalan's Split is Troubling For the Wrong Reasons

Reviews of "Split," "20th Century Women" and "The Founder," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

Real Pittsburgh Weddings: Why All of the Guests Got a Gift

This couple wanted to make sure all of their guests felt as included as possible.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Making Moves: Restoration Hardware Coming to North Hills

Making Moves: Restoration Hardware Coming to North Hills

RH Pittsburgh, The Gallery at Ross Park Mall is opening up shop at Ross Park Mall. The new store will replace the luxury brand's prior location in Mt. Lebanon.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

Gun Violence Target of Carlow's Social Justice Institutes

The University will conduct research and offer scholarships to victims.

Comments