Contemporary dance

Čechová brings Anne Frank to the stage as a dance work

Photograph by Martin Marak.

Photograph by Martin Marak.

She might not be Jewish, but she understands how the Holocaust remains in Europe’s blood and bones. Miřenka Čechová (32) (pictured), internationally respected Czech performer and choreographer, was seven years ago so swept away by Anne Frank’s diary, that she created a work about it. “I recognise Anne in me,” she told the SAJR last week. <<A version of this story was published in this week’s issue of the SA Jewish Report:>&gt;

Anne Frank earned iconic status as a teen diarist. Born in Germany, she spent her childhood in Amsterdam and lived in a secret annexe in the industrial part of the city, with her family and four other people, between 1942 and 1944: as Jews they were under threat of Nazi persecution.

On August 4, 1944, German security police and Dutch Nazis raided the annexe and sent its occupants to concentration camps. Five months later, the war ended.

In Bergen-Belsen, Anne and her sister Margot contracted typhus. In February, Margot died. The loss of her sister broke Anne’s spirit; she died in March 1945 – three months shy of her 16th birthday.

In 1947 her father, Otto, who survived, facilitated the publishing of her diary, picked up by a cleaner, in the Amsterdam raid’s wake.

The diary is much more than teen ramblings; it reaches into the psyche of a thoughtful, three-dimensional sensitive and real person trapped in an insufferable situation, and traces her emotional growth belying her age. The diary spawned presence in the arts, from theatre to film. Now, it is articulated a dance work.

“In the Czech Republic, Holocaust history remains in our blood and bones,” Čechová, celebrated the world over, speaks of her work’s fragility. “It is constructed of subtle intimate emotions, expressed with honesty and authenticity onstage.

“I read the diary for the first time, like most Czech children, at 13. But I read it again as an adult at university. That time, I fully appreciated its depth.”

The work, which debuted in Prague in 2008, was funded by the European Association of Jewish Culture. It was Čechová’s first collaboration with director Petr Boháč. “It took us nine months: It was like our baby. It’s probably the most essential work we’ve made.”

She is incredulous as to the legs this work has grown. It was her final masters degree project at the Prague Academy of Performing Arts, where today she lectures, having won a Fulbright scholarship and attained her doctorate.

The work was feted at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 2013, which triggered the Market Theatre season in Johannesburg. “Its set comprises two wardrobes. In one, ‘cellist Nancy Joe Snider, represents Anne’s imaginary friend, Kitty, the diary’s addressee. A call-and-response energy is generated.”

The costumes are also minimalist: “Nakedness interests me – without masks or pretence.”

Last year, Čechová fell in love with South Africa. “Coming from Europe, I’ve never been this intimate with nature. It brings me to my human origins.” She also visited a township, and was exposed to cuisine and jamming. “I joined in, with drums! In this trip, I want to dive deeper.”

  •  The Voice of Anne Frank is at the Market Theatre in Newtown until August 29.

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