Dance is a unique medium to present stories such as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass. It's an art form with the ability of showing beauty and pain simultaneously, to be both abstract and narrative at the same time. In a story that details the event which many look upon as the beginning of the Holocaust, the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company uses dance to show hope and the human spirit in the midst of ultimate adversity. The company will present a special performance of "The Legacy Project: A Dance of Hope" on Thursday, November 13 at South Orange Performing Arts Center. Following the performance will be a panel discussion entitled, "Yesterday's Story is Today's Reality" featuring the artists alongside clergy, Seton Hall professors, and special guests.
The name Kristallnacht comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues had their windows broken during one violent night in Germany. Acclaimed choreographer and storyteller, Carolyn Dorfman has lived with stories like this throughout her entire life. A daughter of Holocaust survivors, her work has increasingly been influenced by her Jewish heritage and the stories of her parents.
"The Legacy Project: A Dance of Hope" is a dance-theatre trilogy that takes the audience through the Holocaust and its unspeakable devastation, during a period in which hope inspires a journey to a land that promises new beginnings. The night opens with a piece that comes from a larger work called "My Father's Solo."
"It is a dedication to the survivor," Dorfman explained. "It's a piece that I made in response to my family's story and my father who, like others, have the capacity to fall and rise again. They have tenacity, a sense of pride, a sense of resilience to whatever comes their way. It's the prologue of the piece, a narrated performance in the sense that there's a multimedia performance. I show slides and talk about the evolution of this work.
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"The next piece of the program is called ‘Cat's Cradle' - it's a work that is set to music and poetry that was written in Theresienstadt," continued Dorfman. "It was really a holding ground primarily for Jews on their way to Auschwitz. It was a very unique place in the sense that there was opera, theatre, even dance created at Thereseinstadt. There were people who rose above their circumstance to create, to have hope, and to believe that they may be freed. Most importantly, it's this idea of staying connected... of not being held back by the past, but, in some ways, being strengthen by their connection to it.
"The last piece on the program is from the closing section called ‘Mayne Menstshn,' which is Yiddish for my people," noted Dorfman. "This section is about the American Dream and it speaks of coming to America and facing all of the joys, the challenges, and the wonders of immigrants who came here. It's a story that doesn't change. It's one of issues of assimilation, bias, and how one becomes part of a larger whole while maintaining their connection to their own identity and their own culture - The question of how to move forward in those two worlds. All together, the three pieces are the journey you take through the evening. In some ways it's a call to action. For us to not sit there as an audience and be complacent about what is happening around the world today."
Dorfman feels a real connection to the concept of hope shared by the people in these stories. Her father survived with his father and her mother survived with two sisters. She knows how lucky she is that they made the choice to live.
"I was lucky because my parents chose life," said Dorfman. "They chose to live, to have children, to raise a Jewish family, and to be part of the American Dream. They stayed connected to who they were and never forgot where they came from, but they embraced life. And that is a very different story than many survivors and people that they know who lived and came to America."
Stories of the Holocaust were often told in her household while growing up. They inspired conversation with aunts and uncles who were held in various concentration camps. Her mother made sure that the family watched every movie and read each book on the subject. Carolyn struggled to deal with it, often experiencing nightmares imagining what the experience was like for her mother. At 15, her mother was taken away from everything that she knew. Carolyn internalized these feelings, trying to hide how painful they were from her mother.
"My work was a way of saying, ‘Mom, I understand. I know how important it is to you that your stories be told,'" said Dorfman. Yet sharing the stories of her heritage was difficult for Carolyn in the beginning. The first piece she ever made was "Cries of the Children" in 1983. This program was not so much about the survivors of the Holocaust as it was about being a child of survivors.
"I did not feel like I could tell their story," recalled Dorfman. "Interestingly, as I got older and they got quieter, I felt it was more important for the next generation to continue to tell their story. So, as I got older, I felt more compelled to have those stories be told. And some are very joyous stories. There are elements of the American Dream that are humorous and poignant, it's not all sad. There is hope in all of this. There is joy in choosing life and how people can survive and thrive, and make a difference.
"I think work is authentic when it comes from a specific realm," she continued. "Making a dance about love is very generic. Making a dance about something more specific to that love actually has better universality. I think there is beauty in dance, but it is in the nonverbal as much as the verbal that we understand life. It takes us into that realm where our own imagination fills in the images and thoughts. These are human stories and I think it changes those of us who do it. We've done shows for survivors and we've asked them what they most want people to know and they say just don't forget us... Don't forget."
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.