An innovative and powerful narrative dance film that celebrates resilience, connection, and hope, “Sh’ma: A Story of Survival” tells the story of director/choreographer Suki John’s mother. Originally a live choreodrama performed in the former Yugoslavia and New York City, the story follows our heroine from her school days to the ghetto, to her deportation to a concentration camp, and finally her immigration to the U.S. “Sh’ma: A Story of Survival” film features 15 virtuoso performers and extraordinary original music and design.
The film screening will be followed by a conversation, moderated by Wendy Perron, former editor in chief of Dance Magazine, with Suki John, the film’s director and choreographer; two performers, Keith Saunders and Kira Rai Daniel; and Dr. Michael Berenbaum, historian and Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute at American Jewish University.
Dr. Suki John is a Professor in the School for Classical & Contemporary Dance at Texas Christian University. John has worked internationally as a dance artist and scholar – teaching, choreographing, and writing about the intersections between dance, history, and culture. She has performed with the London Festival Ballet, The Joffrey Upstarts, Jennifer Muller, Sara Sugihara, Rachel Lampert, Living Art International, Dance Company Narciso Medina, The Horse’s Mouth, People’s Theater of Yugoslavia, and Route 66 Dance Company, which she co-founded with Ninotchka Bennahum. A widely published author, her book Contemporary Dance in Cuba: técnica cubana as Revolutionary Movement is a personal and scholarly account. She is the outgoing Director of Dance for the Texas Jewish Arts Association, where she served since 2017.
Keith Saunders began dancing in 1971 while a student at Harvard University and started his ballet training in 1973 at the National Center for Afro-American Artists. Saunders joined Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) in 1975 and continued his development under the tutelage of Arthur Mitchell, Karel Shook, and William Griffith. In 1996, he was appointed as DTH’s ballet master. As guest artist, Saunders appeared with Boston Repertory Ballet, Maryland Ballet, Eglevsky Ballet, Ballethnic Dance Company, and the David Parsons Company, among others. He has been a faculty member of the BalletMet Dance Academy, the New Ballet School (Ballet Tech), and the 92nd Street Y. In 2017, Saunders earned an MFA in Dance from Hollins University (Roanoke, VA), and in 2018, he joined the faculty of Texas Christian University as an assistant professor in the School for Classical & Contemporary Dance.
Kira Rai Daniel began her formal dance training at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and was later awarded the Nordan Fine Arts Scholarship at Texas Christian University, where she will graduate with a BFA in Modern Dance. Daniel has completed summer programs with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Eisenhower Dance Detroit, and has performed works by Martha Graham, José Limón, Darshan Singh Bhuller, Stephanie Pizzo, among others.
Dr. Michael Berenbaum is the Director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a Professor of Jewish Studies at the American Jewish University. The author and editor of twenty books, he was also the Executive Editor of the Second Edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. He was Project Director overseeing the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the first Director of its Research Institute and later served as President and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which took the testimony of 52,000 Holocaust Survivors in thirty-two languages and fifty-seven countries. His work in film has won Emmy Awards and Academy Awards.
Wendy Perron had a 30-year career as a dancer/choreographer. She danced with the Trisha Brown Company in the 1970s and choreographed more than 40 works for her own group. She has taught at Bennington, Princeton, SUNY Purchase, and NYU Tisch School of the Arts. The editor in chief of Dance Magazine from 2004–2013, she has also written for The New York Times, The Village Voice, vanityfair.com, and publications in Europe and China. The New York Foundation for the Arts inducted Perron into its inaugural Hall of Fame in 2011. She co-curated the bi-coastal exhibit on three Jewish women: Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955–1972. Both her recent book, The Grand Union: Accidental Anarchists of Downtown Dance, 1970–1976,and her 2013 selection of writings titled Through the Eyes of a Dancer were published by Wesleyan University Press. Currently she teaches dance history at Juilliard and is editor at large for Dance Magazine. Perron was recently profiled in Jewish Women’s Archive.
Photo credits: Suki John by M. Alimanov Photography, Kira Rai Daniel by James Martinez, CPP, Wendy Perron by Da Ping Luo.