Performance » Dance

Unforgettable Steps

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It's your classic story of local boy does well, goes away and then comes back to share his success. In this case, that boy was Brian Honigbaum, who left Indianapolis to study and perform dance in Florida and later in Texas. And Thursday (Oct. 15th) he will return to Clowes Memorial Hall to stage his life's dream and passion -- Remembrances, a ballet he created to honor the memory of Holocaust victims.

"It's all finally come full circle for me," Honigbaum says. "I'm rehearsing at the same studio -- the very same room I was in so many times as a child studying dance at Butler, and now my ballet will be performed at Clowes Hall where I went for so many years."

Honigbaum quickly dismisses the notion of being overly sentimental. "I'm not trying to be sappy, because I'm not that kind of person, but I had the idea to do this when I was 13 years old. Now to watch this dream realized ... it's big," he says.

Growing up on Indy's north side, Honigbaum attended the Jordan College Academy of Dance at Butler University beginning at age 9, but he left home when he was 14 to study dance in Florida. In the mid '90s he returned to his Hoosier home and back to Butler to study dance. By the time he was in his early twenties, Honigbaum joined Dance Kaleidoscope and performed under the tutelage of Artistic Director David Hochoy.

Honigbaum, who is Jewish, learned early on about the genocide of approximately 6 million Jews who were systematically persecuted and killed by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. But, as a kid, when he met Holocaust survivors Michael and Agnes Vogel, the historical atrocity became personal. The anguish and suffering he’d only read about suddenly became real, now with faces and feelings.

Agnes was among four other older women who were secretaries at the Jordan College Academy of Dance when Honigbaum was a kid. She stood out as the stern but watchful grandmotherly type.

Caitlin Negron and company to perform Remembrances. - PHOTO DREW ENDICOTT
  • Photo Drew Endicott
  • Caitlin Negron and company to perform Remembrances.

“I was a very hyper, rambunctious child so she would yell at me a lot. She was kind of the grandma that yells at you,” Honigbaum says.

But along with admonishing him, Agnes shared powerful memories of the events with the young dancer. Honigbaum started asking Agnes questions about the numbers tattooed on her arm, and the stories began to flow.

"At that time there was no Schindler's List, and many Holocaust survivors just didn't really talk about it much," he says. "The more I learned, I knew even at that age that I had to tell their story, that the survivors eventually wouldn't be around to tell it. And, for me, I naturally thought of dance as a way to convey it."

Agnes' husband Michael was a renowned educator both locally and nationally, and Honigbaum says he traveled the country to talk about his and his wife’s experiences. Honigbaum sat with them multiple times and learned their stories.

“It really made me realize that not only as a Jew, but also as a human, that I had a responsibility to tell their story, because I knew they wouldn’t be here forever,” he says. "And now their story is more important than ever before in the current climate where there's so much hate and intolerance. We need to teach students, especially, that this is what happens when you let 'hate' go too far."

That was the inspiration for Remembrances, which he began so many years ago and first brought to the stage in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2001. Now at 40 years old, Honigbaum has brought it back because he hopes to use this ballet as a tool to educate people. He always felt it was meaningful, but following its original performance, the ballet "was put on a shelf" when Honigbaum changed jobs, got married and started a family.

As a former Dance Kaleidoscope member who performed under the direction of Hochoy for two years in the mid '90s, Honigbaum continues to be a source of pride for DK's artistic director. Hochoy was impressed by his ability as a youth to tackle such a heartrending topic that most adults can't fathom.

"What is really astounding to me is that as a young dancer he thought to make this ballet; it’s a very mature subject matter, and I think it’s very amazing that a young dancer would take this on,” Hochoy says.

(Video produced by our friends at WFYI Productions)

The ballet opens up with Michael Vogel’s voice talking about Auschwitz, the camps and all that had happened to him and his wife.

Remembrance follows Holocaust victims through such horrifying conditions as the ghettos, mass deportations and gas chambers. A single Jewish family is seen throughout the play in order to get the audience to personally identify with the events.

Honigbaum had a hard time finding a way to translate such a heavy and emotional historical experience into a dance where light and grace are so paramount. He wanted to tell the story historically but also emotionally. The choreographer had to find the fine line between abstract and reality without making the performance too "dancey-dancey" or too much like a play. He wanted the audience to grasp the concept and the emotion right from start.

“So I really had to use the movement and the costumes and the lighting to convey what was happening historically, as well as give the audience something to be invested in ... to give them an emotional response ... because you read about it in a book and it's not the same. In the ballet there’s a family and you’re able to follow that family through all historical events that happen so it really personalizes it,” Honigbaum says.

Hochoy explains that this kind of ballet touches audiences by the amount of emotion implemented into every step and movement the dancers make.

Phillip Crawshaw, Jaclyn Virgin and Jillian Godwin explore the human toll of the Holocaust through dance. - PHOTO DREW ENDICOTT
  • Photo Drew Endicott
  • Phillip Crawshaw, Jaclyn Virgin and Jillian Godwin explore the human toll of the Holocaust through dance.

“It brings certain events very close to us as the audience, so watching it we can’t help but be involved in the life of the dancers ... they portray real people up there on the stage and there are very heartbreaking moments in the ballet where your heart just goes out to these people. It makes it very real for you,” says Hochoy.

Honigbaum dedicated his 2001 premiere of the ballet to Agnes after her husband passed away. He said she was very moved, and although now in her late 80s and having Alzheimer’s, she appreciated the fact that he choreographed the show in memory of their experiences, he believes.

When asked how one can possibly maintain faith when something so horrific happens, Honigbaum draws on Agnes and Michael for the answer every time. He points to their unshakable optimism for life and the future. They survived and had children; they moved to America and lived their lives and didn’t hide from the world. And bravely Michael and Agnes told of their experiences.

Because of them, Honigbaum feels it’s his responsibility to continue the dialogue. He is the next generation to educate others about this heinous part of world history.

“There are people that tell you it didn’t happen, and it’s going to be easier to say that when there’s nobody here [who experienced it and still lives]," he says. "So I kind of feel a moral obligation to tell that story and to educate. And that survivor’s testimony, to me, is the dance,” Honigbaum says.

The DK cast pose ahead of the powerful Remembrances ballet that begins Thursday, Oct. 15th and runs through Oct. 21st. - PHOTO DREW ENDICOTT
  • Photo Drew Endicott
  • The DK cast pose ahead of the powerful Remembrances ballet that begins Thursday, Oct. 15th and runs through Oct. 21st.

Dance Kaleidoscope will open its 2015-2016 season with Remembrances at Clowes Memorial Hall, and the ballet will run from Oct. 15 through Oct. 21. For ticket information, visit www.cloweshall.org.

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