A very special Ballet Quad Cities program will celebrate the human spirit on Saturday, Oct. 8 at the Adler Theatre at 7:30 p.m., called “Our Will To Live.”

The professional ballet company’s contribution to the region’s “Out Of Darkness” Holocaust education series, it presents new original choreography by Courtney Lyon and Emily Kate Long, honoring and dramatizing works by Jewish composers who fled the Nazis during World War II or tragically died in the camps.

“The significance — and unfortunately, relevance — of this program is deep,” says a Ballet Quad Cities release, noting most of these composers and their works have been forgotten except by a small group of people.

“We decided to collect notable and sometimes lesser-known works by these composers and really bring them back to life in a way that is not often done,” Long said recently.

Emiy Kate Long is a choreographer and artistic associate at Ballet Quad Cities.

“Our Will To Live” opens with a piece by Giuseppe Verdi, since his Requiem was conducted in the Terezin labor camp in the former Czechoslovakia.

“That entire scenario of that camp was set up as a bit of a marketing ploy by the SS to make conditions of the camps appear better than they were,” Long said. “So it had a very rich musical and cultural life.”

The Oct. 8 program especially focuses on the composers imprisoned at Terezin concentration
camp, and the music created there.

Terezin is a small city between Prague and Dresden, and was a “show” camp for Red Cross inspections, according to BQC As such, it had two orchestras, chamber music groups, a jazz band, and others who regularly gave concerts in the camp.

Former prisoner of the Nazi regime at Theresienstadt, Rabbi Richard Feder (1875-1970) visits the Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto and Concentration Camp Memorial circa 1955 at Terezin in Czechoslovakia. 33,521 people died at Theresienstadt and approximately 90,000 people were deported to other Nazi concentration and extermination camps. (Photo by Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images).

Violinist Karel Fröhlich, who miraculously survived the camps, said, “For an artist, it was a tremendous opportunity to work during the war in his own field, with excellent colleagues, and actually, in a certain sense, an ideal milieu. We did not have to do anything but play music. . . So in one sense it was ideal, and in another sense it was abnormal.

“We all knew it, and we made the best of it,” he has said. “However, in the end, we were deported to Auschwitz.”

Among the composers whose works will be featured by BQC are Arnold Schoenberg, Gideon Klein, Sandor Kuti, Rudolf Karel, Pavel Haas, Erwin Schulhoff and others.

A portrait of Austrian-born American composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874 – 1951), circa 1925. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Schoenberg (1874-1951) — the most famous of them — survived the Holocaust but lost many close friends and colleagues, Long said. The “Our Will to Live” works range from some really somber, extremely thoughtful and moving pieces, to some more light-hearted things.

Courtney Lyon (BQC’s artistic director) choreographed a piece called “Quack, Quack,” based on a story Anne Frank related in her diary. She got in trouble in school for talking too much and her teacher made her write a story, Long said. She wrote about a mother duck called Mrs. Quackenbush who nagged her little ducklings, and they chased her away.

“It brings a little levity to the program, and it really calls to mind the innocence and goodness and the hope that is exemplified in Anne’s diary and so many other stories from that time period,” Long said.

“Our hope with this entire program is that by bringing awareness, by educating our community about it, not only the tragic aspect of the Holocaust, but the vast learning opportunities that are there, we’ll continue to be part of that change,” she said.

The meaning of these composers’ and artists’ lives — their iron-like determination, defiance, and courage in asserting their will to live as fully as possible — despite the most humiliating, debilitating circumstances — are profoundly inspirational, the ballet release said.

As Joza Karas wrote in “Music In Terezin” — “They are speaking to us. They are pointing out to us with accusing fingers the terrible consequences of moral decay. They are speaking to us about human dignity and the sacredness of life even in the midst of unimaginable misery; they are speaking about the courage of the unbending, unyielding human spirit. And above all, through the tones of the Terezin composers speak to us about the eternal hope for a better tomorrow.”

“Infinity,” danced by Jillian Van Cura.

Two of the works were premiered at BQC’s “Ballet on the Lawn” at Davenport’s Outing Club in late August.

“Inifinity,” danced by Jillian Van Cura, was inspired by a work of art by Orion Middle School 6th grader Eve Wilbur, called “Infinite Tears.” In Eve’s words, “In my artwork, you will see crystal tears hung in the infinity symbol, which reflects the idea that all the tears that have been shed have infinite value.”

“Kaddish” — a spare, elegant, utterly transfixing duet between Madeleine Rhode and Christian Knopp — features solo violin penned by Sandor Kuti, with Courtney Lyon’s creative, ethereal choreography.

Madeleine Rhode and Christian Knopp dancing “Kaddish.”

The prayer seeks eternal bliss for the deceased and peace for all who mourn. This duet, based on prints by Mauricio Lasansky, captures the grief, hope and peace in the experiences of Nazis’ victims and survivors. The prints will be on view at the Figge Art Museum through Jan. 15, 2023.

The “forgottenness” of these composers has enabled the Nazis’ anti-semitic agenda to continue: to have not only these composers’ physical lives, but also their cultural legacies, their stories, their meanings, be erased from history, BQC said, in effect, dealing them a kind of double-death.

“This program is a step toward a reset, resurrecting the music and vivifying it via dance,” the release said. “More than anything, ‘Our Will To Live’ is a celebration of the human spirit at its noblest, a proclamation of the tremendous, enduring power of art, and the ultimate triumph of truth over lies, and love and compassion over hatred and violence.”

Tickets for the program are $25 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under, available HERE. Be sure to check out a video on the BQC season at the top of this story.