Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company honors Dora Amelan
March 1, 2016
During World War II, the Nazis in Europe systematically murdered millions of Jews, a tally that could have been worse if it were not for some courageous heroes who risked their lives to rescue many of the children and others who were on the lists to be shipped to concentration camps.
One of those who helped was Dora Amelan, a French Jewish woman who happens to be the mother-in-law of award winning choreographer Bill T. Jones.
Jones is the artistic director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
Last year, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the company premiered "Analogy/Dora: Tramotane," a work based on Amelan’s experiences as nurse and social worker to many of those rescued children.
The dance company will perform the work on Saturday at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, said Janet Wong, associate artistic director for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.
"The reason why the title is so complicated is because it’s part of a trilogy," Wong said during a telephone interview with The Park Record. "The whole work we’re planning is called ‘Analogy,’ and ‘Dora’ is the first part. We’re in the process of making the second piece, which will premiere this summer."
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Amelan was 19 years old and living in Belgium when World War II began.
"During that time, she and her father and sisters relocated to the South of France in the unoccupied zone," Wong said. "She was going to be a nurse in Marseilles, and was registered to take a nursing course."
As fate would have it, Amelan’s first day of class would be her last.
"That’s when the Nazis declared that Jewish girls could not become nurses," Wong said. "So, she was detoured and was asked to work for an organization called OSE."
OSE is a French acronym for uvre de Secours aux Enfants, which is translated basically into Saving the Children. It is a French Jewish organization that aided and rescued hundreds of Jewish refugee children from the Nazis, according to Wong.
"In the beginning, Dora’s job was to provide nutrition for these children and then she worked as a social worker," she said. "All the while, OSE would make fake I.D.s and help those who were marked to be transported to concentration camps get off the lists."
For most of her life, Amelan kept these experiences to herself.
"She is a smart woman with an amazing memory, but would not talk about what happened in World War II," Wong said.
In 2002, Jones decided to interview Amelan and make an oral history for her sons Bjorn and Ronnie.
"Bill is married to Bjorn, who is also our set designer and creative director, and Dora lives with Ronnie in Paris," Wong said.
The interviews took place whenever Amelan would be in the United States.
"She would come and visit them once or twice a year and he stared recording her and coaxing information from her," Wong said. "He ended up with more than eight hours of interviews."
The idea for the dance piece didn’t emerge until well after the interviews were finished.
"We had actually started working on ‘Analogy’ but didn’t think of making the work into a trilogy," Wong said. "We started with a piece based on the third story in a book by W.G. Sebald called ‘The Emigrants.’"
The story is about Sebald’s great uncle, Ambros Adelwarth, who was born in Germany at the end of the 18th century.
"Ambros moved to the United States and was in charge of taking a rich Jewish family’s eccentric son, and we thought we could weave Dora’s story into the piece," Wong said. "When we began doing that, we realized both stories were so rich and full and decided to put Ambros’ story on hold and focus on ‘Dora.’"
The finished work features spoken word intertwined throughout the dancing.
"All the women in the piece have the opportunity to speak the parts of Dora that were culled from the interviews, and the men take turns being Bill," Wong said. "So, everyone goes from being dancers to becoming speakers and back again."
The challenge of creating the piece was deciding what to include in the story and what to leave out.
"We needed to find the most eloquent way to tell the story without confusing the audience," Wong explained. "So we broke down the interviews into episodes, which made it more manageable for us to set segments and create movement.
"Since we’re not doing theater and [acting] scenes, we are really trying to employ some post-modern ideas into the movement vocabulary," she said. "Sometimes the piece becomes very abstract and there is nothing but bodies moving on the stage. Sometimes, with a light touch, we suggest people in camps. There is always the respect for her original story in the interviews."
Amelan is regarded as a hero — she is set to receive the Legion of Honor medal from the French Government later this year — but doesn’t think of herself as one, according to Wong.
"She just felt she was doing what was right," Wong said. "At the time she was helping these children, she decided there were two kinds of people in the world — those who need care and those who give care. She decided to be one of the ones who give care."
The Park City Institute will present the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 5, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $75 and are available by calling 435-655-3114 or by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.