Battery Dance Company performed and worked here in 2006 on a project they called "Dances for the Blue House."
Press and Media
Over the course of 2 weeks in the summer of 2006, 12 teaching artists from New York, Russia and Australia teamed up in pairs to work with groups of students from three public high schools in Freiburg, Germany. The thesis behind their work was to employ the art of dance to help teens in Germany work through their feelings about the traumatic history of the Holocaust, and to invest themselves into the group creation of dances that reflected and resulted from this process. The project was entitled “Dances for the Blue House”, referring to the building, converted into a living museum, that serves as the physical reminder of what had been a thriving Jewish community in the adjacent town of Breisach until Krystallnacht and the subsequent deportations.
The teaching artists comprised six members of Battery Dance Company in New York, four members of Drastic Action in New York, a guest teacher from the teen program SMILE in Novosibirsk, Russia and a guest teacher from Buzz Dance Theatre in Perth, Australia. The project was conceived, planned and supervised by choreographers Jonathan Hollander and Aviva Geismar, artistic directors of Battery Dance Company and Drastic Action respectively. Both Hollander and Geismar had deep connections with the effort surrounding the Blue House --- Hollander as a friend of nearly 4 decades with Dr. Christiane Walesch-Schneller, founder of the Blue House project, and Geismar, as the descendant of a Jewish family originally from Breisach.
The two choreographers and their dance companies worked together in planning curriculum and discussing approaches to this highly experimental project. They also took part in training sessions beforehand with people who could lend a special perspective to the work they would be doing: Arne Lietz of Facing History & Ourselves; Ralph Eisemann, a Holocaust Survivor, son of the last Cantor of Breisach, and former resident with his family of the Blue House itself; Professor Dan Bar-On, noted author and trainer, who met with Jonathan Hollander at Ben-Gurion University one year prior to the project, and with the dancers of Battery Dance Company in Breisach. These trainings helped prepare, encourage and validate the teaching artists for their special task in Germany. All of the teaching artists were experienced in working with youth, but engaging with the Holocaust theme introduced a new dimension into their role as facilitators and teachers.
The German teens who participated in the project were, for the most part, previously untutored in dance. Ages of the participants ranged from 13 – 19. The two groups at Kepler School included a mixture of boys and girls. At Lessing Schools, there were exclusively girls, and at Theodor Heuss Gymnasium, one courageous boy took part with a full complement of girls. The involvement of the special education program at the Lessing School, where students whose learning style is different and where, for many of whom, the German language and culture is a second one, gave another character to the group.
Noticeable and amazing in the workshops was the complete absence of cynicism, ridicule or self-consciousness that could have been expected in a mixed group of teens. The element of vulnerability was a key to the successful realization of the project and was exemplified by the teaching artists as well as the students. It was clear throughout that everyone was learning together.
The culmination of the workshops was six performances, three in the schools as part of end-of-year ceremonies, and three in nearby Breisach. The school performances were important in that a large proportion of parents, students and teachers saw the results of their schools’ workshops and the school was, in effect, putting a spotlight on the students who had volunteered to take part. Likewise the teachers from the schools who volunteered untold hours of time in planning, preparing and facilitating the workshops received the approbation of their administrators and fellow teachers.
The three performances that were held in the town of Breisach, included a site-specific work created by Aviva Geismar on the formerly named Judengasse and Synagogenplaz; followed by performances by Battery Dance Company and Drastic Action and all of the student works. These performances were to have been held at the outdoor amphitheater Festspiele; however, weather conditions precluded this option. Instead, the Mayor of Breisach and his staff made it possible for the performances to be shifted on a moment’s notice to the sports hall Breisgau Halle located on the border of the town.
U.S. Ambassador William Timken, Mayor Oliver Rein of Breisach and other officials and V.I.P. guests from the local region as well as those from Switzerland, France, Israel, Canada and the U.S. attended the opening day performances and ceremonies, their ranks swelled by local community members of all ages. The two subsequent performances were similarly well attended. An overall audience tally has been approximated at 1,500, a huge audience for such a small town.
The impact of Dances for the Blue House is evident through the achievement of the 100 German high school students whose lives were changed through the workshop experience.