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TCU 360

TCU professor uses dance on film to tell the story of Holocaust trauma

The+film+features+a+cast+of+15+performers+including+professionals+from+Dance+Theatre+of+Harlem+and+Texas+Ballet+Theatre%2C+celebrated+local+artists%2C+TCU+alumni+and+students.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+The+Shma+Project%29
M.Alimanov photography
The film features a cast of 15 performers including professionals from Dance Theatre of Harlem and Texas Ballet Theatre, celebrated local artists, TCU alumni and students. (Photo courtesy of The Sh’ma Project)

A TCU professor has paid homage to her mother’s experience in the Holocaust through dance and film. 

“Sh’ma: A Story of Survival,” is a dance film directed by Suki John, a professor in the School for Classical & Contemporary Dance. 

Sh’ma is the centerpiece prayer in the Jewish faith, meaning “listen” or “hear.” The film and the choreodrama invite the audience to listen to the story and to be aware that genocide, atrocities and hate crimes are still happening, John said. 

John has been working on Sh’ma for over 30 years. It began as a live choreodrama performed in the former Yugoslavia, now Serbia, and New York City. During COVID-19 she converted Sh’ma into a feature-length film. 

John explained that her motivation to create “Sh’ma” was the death of her mother.

“When my mother died in 2017, there were a lot of children at the border being separated from their parents,” John said. “And my mother was experiencing trauma, or PTSD, of the fear of being separated from her parents and the fear of having somebody knock on the door and say ‘we are taking you away now.’ ”

Dr. Suki John is the director and choreographer of the dance film “Sh’ma: A Story of Survival” (Photo courtesy of The Sh’ma Project) (M.Alimanov photography)

The film, available in both 30-minute and 70-minute formats, is part of The Sh’ma Project: Move Against Hate, John’s human rights and educational initiative was designed to teach audiences, especially young adults, about the Holocaust. John also created the interactive Upstander Workshops as part of the project with the help of Lydia Mackay, a Theatre TCU professor. The workshops, which are offered before and after a showing of the film, allow audiences to prepare for what they’re about to watch and set the stage for a response. In addition, the project also includes free Online Educational Resources (OER).

“I hope that they understand that people who are different—they are not that different,” John said. “Everybody is human, everybody deserves to be treated with respect. Hate speech and others can lead to catastrophic responses, and if you think of anyone as less than human, you are in danger of bringing about some sort of catastrophe down the road for that group of people. So young people have to know that yes, this did happen, and it can happen again, and it’s happening again, and it’s happening all over the world, and it’s up to us to stop it.”

The film, which premiered Wednesday to TCU students, faculty and local community members at the Brown-Lupton University Union Auditorium, features a cast of 15 performers including professionals from Dance Theatre of Harlem and Texas Ballet Theatre, celebrated local artists and TCU alumni and students. 

It is set to premiere on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. Virtual admission is available for free and can be registered here.

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