Memory is tricky. With some memories, we owe it to ourselves and those around us to mull over and share them, at which point they stop being memories and become information. And eventually, as they pass from one person to the next, from one generation to the next, they lose their immediacy and, in many ways, their effectiveness. They become history—and we all know what happens to those who don’t learn from history.
The role of Keshet Dance Company’s Ani Ma’amin is to combat the memory-as-history phenomenon. The work is a melding of movement, video, music and poetry about the impact of the Holocaust on American Jews. As generations stretch farther away from one of the most horrific events in human history, Keshet Founder and Artistic Director Shira Greenberg says its lessons become diluted. The performance, which uses video archives from the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, is an attempt to bridge generations and keep our collective memory of the Holocaust alive and meaningful.
Ani Ma’amin (Hebrew for “I Believe”) is in its third year—originally commissioned by the Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis, Keshet has continued to perform it periodically in cities and schools across New Mexico.
Keshet will partner with the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum of New Mexico, which played a crucial role in the research for the performance, to bring Ani Ma’amin to the KiMo Theatre for Holocaust Memorial Day. Greenberg spoke with the Alibi about the show’s significance.
Do you have any personal ties to the Holocaust?
Well, I do have personal ties to it. I’m Jewish myself, and luckily the majority of my family was not affected by this; however, many farther distant relatives and many friends’ ... parents or grandparents were part of the Holocaust.
It’s interesting to have that performance context in an environment where you’re working with high school students and you’re saying, OK, well, what does that mean today? What’s the importance of taking action versus inaction?
I did, in development of this show, start to look at that part deeply and talk to people directly. Not only on the level of the survivors themselves but the descendants of survivors and those entire generations. ... How has this affected people in that first generation as soon as the war ended, and then the next generation? And then the grandchildren of survivors and now the great-grandchildren, and the people who remember it as this historical event and not something that they can touch and see?
What was the process of creating this performance compared to others you’ve worked on? Did you find it more emotional?
It was definitely way more emotional. We definitely had rehearsals where we were crying or discussions where we would sit and cry. It was really emotional, and performing it is very emotional. I mean, there’s nothing in the performance in which we say, And this is where you’re supposed to cry. However, throughout the performance, many of the dancers are crying, and it’s not a set spot; it happens really differently in different performances, at different times. It was and it is a pretty emotional process. And the Q&As afterward, many people in the audience who are talking start crying, but often many of the dancers as they’re trying to answer the questions start crying. I’m crying. It’s a really interesting relationship that developed out of that performance.
What does it feel like to set it aside and then come back to it?
There’s a lot of other work we do throughout the year ... to keep an organization running. And sometimes you get to that moment of, Oh, this is why we do all the things we do, because this is a really important piece to show. ...
The phrase is always “We will never forget,” and this is a really interesting way for people to have that memory stay clear in their head of what happened—and not just “here are the facts of history,” but what happened to people and what happened to their families and what happened to their dreams and to their traditions and to their communities.
It’s interesting to have that performance context in an environment where you’re working with high school students and you’re saying, OK, well, what does that mean today? What’s the importance of taking action versus inaction? These are pretty important concepts for not just the adults who see it but the kids who see it as well. To say, This is part of the reason why this happened and why this is going on—because so many people did nothing. And so what does that mean for you, now, today?
What’s the message you’re trying to convey through the piece?
For me, it’s about awareness and reflection—and hope is in there, too—but it’s more about a starting point to get you thinking about what’s going on in the world, and how are we here, and where are we going next?