At the Ballet

Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project

2011/12 Community Partners

One of the most talked about Ballet Austin works, Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project brings heartbreaking beauty to the stage while turning the spotlight on discrimination and triumph of the human spirit.

When it premiered in 2005, Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project brought national attention to Ballet Austin and choreographer Stephen Mills, with recognition across the country including national reviews and restaging by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Set to the music of five of the most important living composers, Mills' original choreography turns the spotlight on discrimination and triumph of the human spirit.

Concept/Choreography by Stephen Mills

Music by Steve Reich, Evelyn Glennie, Michael Gordon, Arvo

     Part, Philip Glass

For a synopsis, click the "Program Notes" tab below.

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View a complete list of events by our 2011/12 Community Partners here.

The Long Center
8pm | Mar 23Audio description by VSA Texas available for this show, 24
3pm | Mar 25

Sponsored by:
Fifth Age of Man Foundation
Gloria & Harvey Evans
Pamela & Scott Reichardt
Funded in part by a Ballet Austin Foundation Endowment
through the generosity of Jennene & K. Ray Mashburn.


“…a masterful exposition on one of history’s darkest episodes.”
– Austin American-Statesman

Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project is an evening-length ballet that explores the issues surrounding the Holocaust. The work explores human suffering in the face of genocide, as well as people’s capacity to survive and flourish as individuals and as a community.

In 2005 after two years of extensive research, Ballet Austin Artistic Director Stephen Mills led 13 organizations through a community-wide human rights collaboration that culminated in the world premiere work Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. In 2006, Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project was awarded the Austin Anti-Defamation League's Audrey & Raymond Maislin Humanitarian Award.

Program Notes


Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project is a story of survival. Situated during the catastrophic events of the Holocaust, this work strives to illustrate the courage, resilience and perseverance required to endure and rebuild life after unimaginable and devastating loss. I am grateful to Naomi Warren and the many survivors who shared their testimony during the creation of this work. I am forever changed by this knowledge and hope that by my sharing Naomi’s story, others will be affected to fight indifference and intolerance when witnessed – Stephen Mills

The work unfolds as Naomi’s reflections on her life.

Section I:
Steve Reich (Tehillim, Track #1)
Life begins with man and woman, Adam and Eve. Civilization develops; families and cultures evolve to include a pattern of daily life and valued traditions, a wedding. As this section ends, change is imminent.

Section II: Evelyn Glennie (Greatest Hits, Rhythm Song)
Those deemed “different” become exploited. What is familiar slowly disappears. People retreat from one another, beginning to socially isolate; to hide in hopes of survival.

Section III:
Michael Gordon (Weather Track #3)
No longer seen as individuals, life or death is determined by powers outside of their control. People are treated as property and transported to camps. Many do not survive the trip.

Section IV: Arvo Pärt (Tabula Rasa)
How do relationships develop within confinement? The circle of life is complex with acts of kindness, rescue, survival, frustration and anger. We enter and leave alone.

Section V:
Dennis Russell Davies (Performs Philip Glass, Movement 2)
The final section represents the power of the human spirit to cling to hope. Survivors create new relationships; build families and careers, and productive lives.


While struggling to process the horrors of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin’s Artistic Director, also contemplated our individual responsibility for promoting social justice. How can artists contribute to creating a more just world through their individual art forms?

Soon after the death of a close friend and Jewish-American liberator, Mills began to consider creating a dance exploring the Holocaust. However, he felt dance alone was insufficient to respectfully approach this subject. At the same time, Dr. Mary Lee Webeck, Dr. Sherry Field, and Dr. Brent Hasty at The University of Texas at Austin were considering how to integrate meaningful aesthetic representations into Holocaust education. An arts and education partnership was created.

The collaborators began a thoughtful research process that started with meeting Holocaust survivors and hearing their stories. Around the same time, Mills met Naomi Warren, a Holocaust survivor living in Houston who encouraged him to create a ballet, and who ultimately served as the inspiration for the ballet’s story of survival and the triumph of the human spirit. Mills was invited by Warren to study at the Holocaust Museum Houston as a Warren Fellow in 2004. Next, a research trip led them through Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, and then to Israel.

The more knowledge Mills gained, the more he worried that it was not possible to create a ballet depicting the enormity of the Holocaust. A passage written by a Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel provided clarity, “Some things are too large to write about, but nothing is too small.” Wiesel’s words served as the inspiration for Mills to use the human body as the tool to portray one survivor’s story. "You could never sum up the experience of the Holocaust," Mills explains, "but everyone has a body. Everyone knows what it is to be afraid, to be hungry, to be in pain, and to be humiliated. Certainly not to the degree that the Holocaust victims and survivors did, but everyone knows what those feelings feel like. It seems logical to use the body as a means of expressing this story."

Mills developed the choreographic structure to follow one individual’s personal journey through the trials of discrimination, ghetto experience, forced imprisonment, deportation to camps, and the pursuit for survival. By focusing on one individual’s journey, the audience is compelled to relate with and respond to the trials depicted in a poignant and powerful way.

"This project wouldn't be respectful – it wouldn't be successful – if we didn't try to create a communitywide discussion," Mills says. Light officially launched in Austin, Texas, in late January 2005, when a group of civic, religious and community leaders signed a pledge committing to encourage and support area citizens in their efforts to not remain bystanders to acts of bigotry and hate. Educational programming throughout Austin also included a lecture series culminating with a free lecture by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Elie Wiesel, seminars for teachers on Holocaust education, a televised town hall meeting on the dangers of intolerance, and art exhibits in public places, such as the local display of “The Coexistence Exhibition” from Jerusalem’s Museum on the Seam for Dialogue and Understanding. “I couldn't just create this ballet in a vacuum," says Mills. "It didn't make sense to do it if we weren't going to talk about hate and ignorance and intolerance. The issues are just too relevant today to be ignored."

The world premiere of the ballet Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project took place on April 1, 2005 at the Bass Concert Hall in Austin, Texas. The ballet and ancillary educational events were replicated in Pittsburgh from September through November 2009. In the spring of 2012, Ballet Austin’s reprisal of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project will include productions at The Long Center for the Performing Arts and a variety of associated educational programming.


Section I: Steve Reich’s Tehillim
Section II: Evelyn Glennie’s Greatest Hits, Rhythm Song
Section III: Michael Gordon’s Weather
Section IV: Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa
Section V: Philip Glass’ Movement 2


Stephen Mills keeps a file of images culled from magazines, books, and newspapers that serve as the inspiration for projects. Themes from these inspirations infuse multiple elements of each project. Visual images from this idea file were critical in Mills’ creative process for Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. Visual inspirations informed choreographic elements and were instrumental in the costuming and set design choices.

Designed by Christopher McCollom, the costumes of Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project range from bright, colorful period clothes to starkly minimalist underclothing. In some sections, the female dancers wear pointe shoes; in other sections, all dancers are barefoot.


Stephen Mills’ inspirations from his visual art idea file are clearly evident in his scenic design choices. Images and text selected from the idea file for Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project include trees in a variety of representations. Some of the visual portrayals of trees could be interpreted as symbolic of family, the tree of life, or new beginnings. One particularly barren tree shows the silhouette of a man rooted to the ground and reaching for the sky. Another image depicts the birch trees for which the death camp Birkenau (“birch tree meadow”) was named. Additional inspiration came from the text next to a magazine layout with hanging mirror balls that read “Life suspends, turns and in the end reflects. They cast shadows as well as brilliant light.” Mills collaborated with scenic designer Christopher McCollom to incorporate a tree of life as a central theme in the Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project sets. Additionally, the evocative multi-media scenic elements incorporate simulated walls, ramps, and integrated video footage of historical scenes from the 1940s to powerful effect.

Cast & Credits


Aara Krumpe* / Jaime Lynn Witts**
Lynne Short
Ashley Lynn Gilfix, Rebecca Johnson, Anne Marie Melendez, Elise Pekarek, Oren Porterfield, Chelsea Marie Renner, Brittany Strickland, Beth Terwilleger, Michelle Thompson, Kirby Wallis
Ian J. Bethany, Paul Michael Bloodgood, Michael Burfield, Orlando Julius Canova, Edward Carr, James Fuller, Jordan Moser, Preston Andrew Patterson, Frank Shott, Christopher Swaim
*Friday/Sunday       **Saturday


Concept/Choreography: Stephen Mills
Music: Philip Glass, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Michael Gordon, Arvo Pärt, and Steve Reich
Set/Costume Design: Christopher McCollom
Light Design: Tony Tucci
Media Design: Action Figure

Artist Profiles

Stephen Mills, Choreographer
Stephen Mills has created more than 40 works for companies in the United States and abroad, with noted collaborators including the band Asleep at the Wheel, musician Shawn Colvin, and flamenco artist José Greco II. From his inaugural season as Artistic Director in 2000, Mills attracted attention from around the United States with his world-premiere production of Hamlet, hailed in Dance Magazine as, “…sleek and sophisticated.” Under Mills’ direction, Ballet Austin has toured nationally and internationally to venues including The Kennedy for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and The Joyce Theater in New York.

Mills’ critically acclaimed contemporary ballets include One/The Body’s Grace, which won the Steinberg Award at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition in Montreal. In 2005, Mills led 13 organizations through a community-wide human rights collaboration that culminated in the world premiere work Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. In 2006, Mills’ work on Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project was awarded the Austin Anti Defamation League's Audrey & Raymond Maislin Humanitarian Award.

Philip Glass, Composer
Philip Glass was born in 1937 and grew up in Baltimore. He studied at the University of Chicago, at the Juilliard School, and in Aspen with Darius Milhaud. Finding himself dissatisfied with much of what then passed for modern music, he moved to Europe, where he studied with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger (who also taught Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Quincy Jones) and worked closely with the sitar virtuoso and composer Ravi Shankar. He returned to New York in 1967 and formed the Philip Glass Ensemble – seven musicians playing keyboards and a variety of woodwinds, amplified and fed through a mixer. In the past 25 years, Glass has composed more than twenty large and small operas; eight symphonies; concertos for violin, piano, timpani, and saxophone quartet and orchestra; string quartets; solos for piano and organ; and film soundtracks. He has collaborated with Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, and Yo-Yo Ma, among many others. He presents lectures, workshops, and solo keyboard performances around the world and continues to appear regularly with the Philip Glass Ensemble.

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Dame Evelyn Glennie, Composer
Evelyn Glennie has worked on a number of television productions, collaborated with diverse composers such as DJ MJ Cole (Matt Cole), David Motion, Ray Davies from the Kinks, Steve Hackett, and has worked with Fred Frith to provide the sound track to Touch the Sound – a film featuring Glennie on the nature of sound. Glennie is a double Grammy award-winner and BAFA nominee. She was awarded Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2007.

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Michael Gordon, Composer
Over the past 25 years, Michael Gordon has produced a strikingly diverse body of work, ranging from large-scale pieces for high-energy ensembles to major orchestral commissions to works conceived specifically for the recording studio.

Gordon has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the BBC Proms, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Settembre Musica, the Holland Music Festival, the Dresden Festival, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival, among others. His music has been performed at the Kennedy Center, Theatre De La Ville, Barbican Centre, Oper Bonn, Kölner Philharmonie, and the Southbank Centre. The recipient of multiple awards and grants, Gordon has been honored by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Arvo Pärt, Composer
Arvo Pärt studied composition at the Tallinn Conservatory in Estonia, after which he became recording engineer with Estonian Radio. During his early career he wrote music for the stage and for film and, although he had little access to contemporary trends in Western music, he was often at the forefront of the introduction of new techniques in works such as Nekrolog of 1960, which was the first Estonian composition to employ serial technique, a compositional process in which the twelve tones in a scale are manipulated mathematically as well as musically. He continued with serialism through the mid-1960s, after which he began to make use of collage technique in works such as Collage on B-A-C-H.

Pärt has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards including election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In February 2007, the Best Choral Performance Grammy was awarded to Paul Hillier, conductor of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, for Pärt’s Da Pacem. Most recently Pärt was described as “one of the most original voices of our time,” in a tribute which helped him to win the 2008 Léonie Sonning Music Prize.

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Steve Reich, Composer
Steve Reich graduated with honors in philosophy from Cornell University, studied at the Juilliard School of Music, and received his M.A. in Music from Mills College. Since 1971, Reich and his ensemble have frequently toured the world and have the distinction of performing to sold-out houses at venues as diverse as Carnegie Hall and the Bottom Line Cabaret.

Reich's 1988 piece, Different Trains, marked a new compositional method, rooted in earlier works, in which speech recordings generate the musical material for musical instruments. Several noted choreographers have created dances to Reich's music, including Jirí Kylían, Jerome Robbins, Eliot Feld, Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovitch, Maurice Bejart, and Laura Dean, with whom Reich earned a Bessie Award in 1986. In April 2009, Reich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his composition Double Sextet. Other awards include the Polar Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (2007), the Chubb Fellowship at Yale University (2007), and election into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music (2008).

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Director's Notes

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 others’ religious and political choices. Acts of moral blindness did not go out in the 1940s with the liberation of Auschwitz. Before coming to see Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, try to reflect on an instance when you were a bystander, a victim, or a perpetrator of intolerance. Use this work to reflect upon your own responsibilities when confronted with acts of bigotry and hate. My hope is that this work sparks your interest, which in turn starts a conversation. People engaging in dialogue begin the process of positive change.
– Stephen Mills, Artistic Director, Ballet Austin


Holocaust Dance Evokes Deep Emotion
by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin American-Statesman
April 7, 2005

Dancing about degradation, suffering, and genocide sounds like fodder for a dodgy, R-rated movie. Not so in Ballet Austin's poignant Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. Wisely avoiding clichés or Nazi imagery, director Stephen Mills' stunning production at Bass Concert Hall focused on universal themes of alienation and inhumanity. The concert last week also marked Ballet Austin's most ambitious – and successful – venture in linking extraordinary art and social consciousness. Light is a masterful exposition on one of history's darkest episodes. Visually and emotionally gripping, this abstract ballet segued from dawn-of-humanity inklings and communal celebrations into cruelty and despair before culminating with hope and optimism.

Margot Brown and Jim Stein's sumptuous opening duet created an Adam-and-Eve metaphor of visceral, moving sculpture. Brown's sinuous physicality was spectacular. Dressed in minimal flesh-colored leotards, the well-matched duo melted through an amazing array of sharp-edged and sensuous movements, some of Mills' best choreography to date.

Later, one highly dramatic section featured dancers cringing in their underwear in an ever-changing configuration of humiliation and suffering. Backed by a score of wailing sirens, the cluster of humanity ebbed and flowed with flailing limbs in the closest literal reference to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Mills ingeniously placed his 1998 award-winning short ballet, Ashes, into the fourth and most emotionally draining section. The haunting choreography, set to Arvo Part's plaintive score, spoke volumes about despair and death.

Throughout the ballet, Karen Kuykendall appeared as a matriarch reliving past memories, while a spherical lantern hung overhead, signifying the spark of eternal hope.

Light surprised with its absence of literal Holocaust imagery, but not in its gut-wrenching emotion. In this age of graphic film and television violence, Ballet Austin thankfully chose a sophisticated alternative, which made the concert's impact all the more compelling.

Stephen Mills’ Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project didn't show us the Holocaust but it made us feel the profound suffering of it
by Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle
April 8, 2005

No swastikas. No jackboots. No guns. No ghettos. No boxcars. No barbed wire. No showers. None of the images we have come to associate with the Holocaust were anywhere to be seen in Ballet Austin's Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. And yet this new ballet by Stephen Mills still managed to convey a sense of the profound suffering and devastation of those who experienced that dark stain in human history. The key was Mills' translation of the familiar acts and symbols of the event into poetic equivalents, visuals and movements in which the brutal treatment of the Nazis' victims and their torment is distilled into some theatrical essence, as when the corps of dancers were isolated in small rectangles of light out of which they could not move and in which they stripped to their underwear. Eventually, all of them moved into a single cramped rectangle of light, leaving more than a dozen pools of light behind, empty save for the small clump of clothing in each. We didn't see the ghettos, the trains to the camps, or the empty homes of the innocents herded from them, but we felt them, felt the humiliation of the violated in the dancers' undressing, the vulnerability in their nakedness, the distress and dread in the crush of bodies writhing in the confined space. The choreography was often spare, stark, as were the settings by Christopher McCollum and the lighting by Tony Tucci, but the bareness in no way diminished the power of the moment. If anything, it amplified it, offering us distilled experience, primal emotion.

Mills did not give us only the despair of the Holocaust. Taking his cue from those who survived the devastation, he rounded it with life. He opened with a striking duet at the foot of the Tree of Life, Margot Brown and Jim Stein, appearing all but naked, as if they were Eden's first couple, reveling in their physicality, the sensuality of life. They were followed by the company in street clothes taking the stage with the exuberance of youth and the unified spirit of community and family. This gave way to the bleak sequences mentioned above, but this was followed by dances on the far side of that event, dances which acknowledged pain and loss but in which the dancers came together again, offering one another support and solace and hope. Mills' sense of this was nowhere clearer than in the figure of a woman, portrayed by Karen Kuykendall, who appeared periodically to offer comfort to a younger woman who suffered through the event. As she reached out to Allisyn Paino, who communicated such pain in Friday night's performance, you could sense the light spreading from the future to the past, a light guiding her to life beyond the tragedy and sorrow, a light to the rest of the world.

Preview: Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project; Stephen Mills' new ballet is more than a dance about the Holocaust; it's a journey toward tolerance.
by Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Austin American-Statesman
March 31, 2005

"I felt like as long as the survivor community felt it was right [to create a work on the Holocaust], then it was all right for me to do it," [Stephen Mills] says. "My gravest concern is that I would hurt a survivor."

The answer he received? Of course, he must do it, he must continue to tell the story. And one of the Holocaust survivors who gave Mills the encouragement to do so was Naomi Warren of Houston.

Born in Poland in 1920 to a prosperous, educated, close-knit Jewish family, Warren, by her own account, enjoyed a comfortable life until anti-Semitism proliferated after Hitler came to power in neighboring Germany in 1935. After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, Jews were forced into ghettos and concentration camps. Miraculously, for a while Warren and her family managed to avoid the worst of the catastrophes. She even managed to go to college and get married. Then in January 1943, she and her family and her husband were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. It was the first of three camps Warren endured.

She was her family's sole survivor.

A tall, striking woman who looks at least a decade younger than her 84 years, Warren shares her story readily these days. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, her children established the Warren Fellowship at the Holocaust Museum Houston, which each year funds a week of study for about 20 education undergraduate majors from around the state. Students talk with survivors and scholars and learn curricular tools for teaching not just the history of the Holocaust, but also topics such as tolerance and coexistence. Mills was a Warren Fellow last year, the first of what museum officials hope might be more artists participating in the program. Since meeting Warren in March 2004, Mills has spent considerable time talking with her. In January, Warren traveled to Austin to talk with Ballet Austin dancers and recalled a very specific moment during her time at the camps.

Forced into grueling labor outside, Warren faced inevitable sickness, exposure, and death. Until, that is, she was directed to a sordid, but safer, task: sorting the belongings and clothes prisoners were forced to give up. It was a grisly way to be reminded of the sheer volume of people subjected to so much cruelty and death, but at least Warren knew she would be inside, and if she was, she knew had a better chance of surviving.

"When my name was called, I knew that I had to go outside and line up," she says in a lilting accent. "And all these guards were watching us, but my legs, they would not move, I just couldn't get them to move. And I thought 'I'll never make it,' and yet I had the feeling that now maybe I won't be cold all the time or in so much fear all the time if I could just get my legs to move.

"Suddenly, there were two friends on each side of me and they just lifted me up underneath my arms, and then my legs were walking. And I knew then, at that moment, that I was going to get through this."

Warren's older sister and an uncle had already immigrated to the United States before the war, and when Warren was liberated from the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, she headed to Houston to join them. She met and married another Holocaust survivor, Martin Warren, raised three children, and took over her husband's successful import business after he died.

For Warren, Mills' ballet is a necessity. "The main reason for hate and evil is ignorance," she says. "If people would just learn about their differences. . ."

Mills says, “The most rewarding thing for me would be if this ballet would make people realize that political apathy – or apathy of any kind – is unacceptable. And then perhaps they would be inspired to be involved. Inspiring others to act would be the most important thing you could possibly hope for as an artist."


Studio Spotlight – Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project
Thurs Mar 8, 2012 from 12–1pm
Thurs Mar 8, 2012 from 6 – 7pm
Ballet Austin’s AustinVentures StudioTheater

Watch company dancers in rehearsal, learn about Light and the collaborative process involved in making the work, and ask the choreographer and dancers questions about the artistic process. Free admission for those who RSVP. Learn more or sign up.

Footlights – Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project
Fri Mar 23 at 7pm | Sat Mar 24 at 7pm | Sun Mar 25 at 2pm
The Long Center

Just an hour before each performance of Light, join us in the theater for a look at the final preparations for the ballet. See the last-minute workings of dancers and production crew as you learn about the history, music, and artists involved in the production. Free for ticket holders. Learn more.

Encore – Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project
Fri Mar 23 at 10pm | Sat Mar 24 at 10pm | Sun Mar 25 at 5pm
The Long Center

Immediately following each performance of Light, join us for an informal conversation with Ballet Austin’s Artistic Director Stephen Mills, company dancers, and guest artists on the creative and artistic facets of the production. Free for ticket holders. Learn more.

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