Nashville Ballet’s ‘Attitude: Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project’ finds hope in a dark past

As part of the ‘Violins of Hope’ project, the Nashville Ballet and other organizations unite to create positive community dialogue

From March 26 to May 27, the Nashville Public Library will have the “Violins of Hope” on display, a collection of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. As a partner of this city-wide project, the Nashville Ballet added a program to their 2017-2018 season to illuminate the importance of remembering this dark period of human history.

Performed at TPAC’s Polk Theater, “Attitude: Light / The Holocaust and Humanity Project” tells the story of Holocaust survivor Naomi Warren and her struggle to maintain hope while her own humanity was denied. Though the costumes, music and sets were all minimalistic, the dancers’ movements spoke volumes.

In the first section, the dancers wore everyday clothing consisting of a diverse palette of earth tones. This visual liveliness was enriched by Hebrew psalms set to upbeat music, as the performers moved together in groups.

As the piece went on, the music slowly transitioned to cyclic marimba patterns, reflecting the change that was occuring on stage. One by one, the dancers removed bright clothing to reveal matching white garb underneath. They moved as a single unit, constantly lifting up those who had fallen and forming contorted shapes.

The music quickly switched to a constant series of blaring sirens, causing an unsettling discomfort in the audience. Videos of trains moving along tracks were projected on screens in the background, representing the boxcars used to transport victims to camps during the Holocaust. These elements combined with the urgent actions on stage made for an experience that became increasingly difficult to watch.

The images transitioned to a bright sun above a cloudy sky, and the music to a more melodic sonority, but the exploration of the human experience under conditions of atrocity put forth by the dancers transcended all tangible aspects of the performance. As each dancer performed a solo one after the other, the struggle between individual identities and collective stereotypes manifested itself on the stage.

The final section of the piece took a more optimistic perspective. After the dancers finished taking their bows in front of a standing ovation, a stream of sand fell from the top of the stage, as George Santayana’s famous quote “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” was shown on the screen. Though the 90 minute performance had been a true journey of revelations, this one struck home the most and was the most bitter pill to swallow.

The real measure of the show’s success, however, came afterwards during a Q&A session with choreographer Stephen Mills. Audience members approached a microphone one-by-one to share their stories of feeling like outsiders in present-day American society. Some shared their personal relationship to the piece. It was a truly beautiful display of humanity, empathy and hope that our generation is not doomed to repeat the events of the past. With this groundbreaking production, Nashville Ballet proved the importance of the arts in expressing collective experiences and histories, which hold the key to a brighter future.