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Ballet Austin sheds light on the Holocaust in new full-length piece 'Light'

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Light The Holocaust & Humanity Project Photo by Amitava Sarkar
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Light The Holocaust & Humanity Project Photo by Amitava Sarkar
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Light The Holocaust & Humanity Project Photo by Amitava Sarkar
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While creating Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills visited several concentration camps throughout Eastern Europe including Treblinka, an extermination camp in Poland. Courtesy of Ballet Austin
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Stephen Mills rehearses with Company Dancers (Aara Krumpe in the foreground). Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood
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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_Ballet Austin_Light The Holocaust & Humanity Project_march 2012_stephen mills

On March 23, a powerful new performance piece is coming to Austin. Ballet Austin is presenting Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, a full-length contemporary ballet with a human rights agenda that hopes to harness the power of the arts, education and public dialogue to prevent bigotry and hate. The ballet is constructed in five parts, each of which explores the devastating outcomes of intolerance and discrimination, as revealed through the story of a Holocaust survivor.

Feeling that dance alone was insufficient to explore this subject, choreographer Stephen Mills partnered with The University of Texas to combine Holocaust education with the aesthetic representation of dance. 

Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project began with a search to find a deeper meaning within my work,” Mills says. “I never imagined I would be led to the catastrophic events of the Holocaust. While the devastating destruction and loss during WWII and the Holocaust was immense, the subsequent story of survival is awe-inspiring. Today, after having spent time with a dozen survivors over the course of my work on this project, I find myself changed in unforeseen ways.”

Ballet Austin recently announced that Israel’s largest performing arts festival has invited the company to bring Light to the Acco Festival in 2013, performing for three nights during the prestigious event that draws over 200,000 visitors each year.

It seems that his audience has undergone similarly impactful personal change. In its first premier in 2005, the heartbreaking beauty on stage brought national attention to Ballet Austin and Mills. After two years of extensive research, Mills led 13 organizations in a community-wide human rights collaboration that culminated in the world premiere of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project — and garnered the production the Austin Anti-Defamation League’s Audrey & Raymond Maislin Humanitarian Award in 2006.

“Acts of moral blindness did not go out in the 1940s with the liberation of Auschwitz,” says Mills. “Art alone does not change the world, people do. We all have to be diligent to individual and governmental protection of human rights whether or not we agree with other religious and political choices.”

In fact, Mills' words are so profound and thought-provoking that he gave one of the immensely popular TEDx talks, and KLRU will be filming a one-hour documentary on the project that will air April 19 (a follow-up to a previous KLRU piece). Ballet Austin also recently announced that Israel’s largest performing arts festival has invited the company to bring Light to the Acco Festival in 2013, performing for three nights during the prestigious event that draws over 200,000 visitors each year.

“Since the inception of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project in 2005, it has been a dream that the project would be shared with Israel,” says Lily Saad, an Austin-based Israeli and Anti-Defamation League member. “Now, this is a dream come true. It is a great achievement and opportunity for Ballet Austin and the Israeli community to share the messages of this powerful and relevant experience.”

Mills encourages guests of the show, before the performance, to reflect on a time when they were a victim, bystander, or perpetrator of intolerance. His hope is that this work will spark an interest, which in turn will start a conversation with people engaging in dialogue to begin the process of positive change.

“Once you know something, you can’t un-know it,” Mills adds. “Light has taught me to be more present in my relationships with those around me and to stay diligent and vocal when witnessing acts of bigotry, bullying and hate.”

(Click here to read a full transcript of Stephen Mills Q &A)

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