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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.
Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Riverlife hopes the temporary project will lead to permanent, decorative lighting of all three of the city's Sister bridges.
Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

It's the first MTV nomination for the 17-year-old singing sensation.
Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Richard Kohl devoted most of his adult life to caring for homeless large-breed dogs.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Eat, Drink and Learn: The Three Day Blow is Coming

Eat, Drink and Learn: The Three Day Blow is Coming

“A food and drink festival that’s deeply rooted in place — in this case Pittsburgh and the Rust Belt" is coming to Pittsburgh at the end of August.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Part craft-cocktail joint and part coffee bar, the welcoming spot wants you to stay a while.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Although NFL teams never simply pick up where they left off the previous season, there’s reason to believe the 2016 Steelers could resemble the team that came agonizingly close to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in Denver last January.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
"Bad Moms" and a Bad "Bourne" Make For a Rough Weekend

"Bad Moms" and a Bad "Bourne" Make For a Rough Weekend

Reviews of "Jason Bourne" and "Bad Moms," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Real estate crowd-funding platform Small Change Pittsburgh is raising funds to transform the Butler Street building.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments