Diary of Anne Frank one of works told through dance

As floor lights dim and voices in the audience lower to a murmur, performers backstage get into character and prepare to become storytellers.

These performers, however, are not typical storytellers.

They will not speak a word, not even whisper a syllable and yet those watching will hear the story they are telling. These performers are dancers, using movement instead of words.

With each step, words flow off the pages, pieces of dialogue can be heard in each jete and pirouette and as every scene begins, a new chapter unfolds.

“Dance is such a powerful tool to tell stories with, because if you think about it, movement exists in all of us. So it is kind of a universal language,” says Laura Gorenstein Miller, owner of Helios Dance Theatre, a contemporary Characters from Homer’s Odyssey come to life in Helios Dance Theatre’s performance, The Lotus Eaters.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Caliridance company from Los Angeles.

Storytelling dancers come to YYC

Through the guidance and choreography of Gorenstein Miller, Helios Dance Theatre and the Alberta Ballet are bringing Calgarians two performances based off well-known works of literature: Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Homer’s The Odyssey.

Jean Grande-Maitre, artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, likes to bring guest companies to Calgary because “it brings culture from different cities to our city. It somehow opens the door to the dance world.”

“It is really important to have because our audience likes the diversity and for us it’s discovering new art. With choreographing and performing, dancers get to meet new dancers.”

“The taste in Alberta has changed over the years. People like contemporary dance more and more,” says Grand-Maitre.

“I find that the audiences here have always reacted well to the performances that touch them, that excite them, through the physical prose, and the sensuality of the dancers. They seem to always enjoy having material they can relate to psychologically.”

The Alberta Ballet likes to bring two guest companies to Alberta each year. Because of their contemporary style of dance and interesting repertoire, Grande-Maitre says that Helios “would be the perfect guest for the season.”

Well-known novels come to life

About Anne: A Diary in Dance brings to life the battles that Anne and her family experienced during the Second World War.

“I am Jewish and was raised at a very young age with awareness of the Holocaust,” says Gorenstein Miller. “I think quite frequently in my generation it was drilled into me: Never forget, never forget.”

Gorenstein Miller’s upbringing created a strong connection to the storyline of Anne Frank’s diary and so she had trouble choosing which parts to include in her performance.

“It was a lot of looking at what are the important moments to tell, kind of hitting the emotional beats and also being smart and practical on what made sense and hopefully I’ve struck a really nice balance there,” says Gorenstein Miller.

Los Angeles-based dance company will bring two performances to the Jubliee Auditorium from Feb. 21-23.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Caliri
After a brief intermission, the audience will be captivated by the tale of Odysseus and his crew in The Lotus Eaters.

Gorenstein Miller says the inspiration for the Homer-based piece came while jewelry shopping. A necklace of lotus fruits and the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson sparked a creative note that ended up being an eight-person dance.

In the performance, Gorenstein Miller says, the men “fall under a spell and they forget about wanting to go home, they forget about their families. They forget about war and they want to stay on the island with the lotus eaters.”

“It is very much about temptation and seduction and addiction.”

Evan Swenson, 28, a dancer in The Lotus Eaters, describes the performance as showing the “different forms of love and different types of seduction.”

Swenson says there is “mutual love, you know that the person is always going to be there for you through thick and thin; it’s love that stands the test of time.”

More than just dance

Even if the audience has not read Homer’s Odyssey, Swenson is positive that they will still find something to relate to. Even if it is just the way the dancer is moving on stage.

Swenson credits Gorenstein Miller’s collaborative form of choreography to the success of the performance.

“She really got me to push beyond my own comfort level,” he says. “Pushing me in a nurturing way, I was able to break through a lot of my own barriers, and through that, find more out about the characters I was playing.”

Gorenstein Miller’s open style of choreography and narrative themes aims to bring the performances to a new level of dance.

“There is more than just choreography,” says Swenson. “Everything becomes more rich when you put it on stage.”

Both Grande-Maitre and Gorenstein Miller agree with the importance of telling a story through dance.

“That’s what our mandate should be: to educate people about dance, in different forms and what it is all about,” says Grande-Maitre.

About Anne: A Diary in Dance and The Lotus Eaters will be showing at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium this Thursday through Saturday.

bbrezinski@cjournal.ca