Imagine a summer painting that is full of color and bright lines. Now imagine that same painting but you know that the artist painted it at his rock bottom. Was it still beautiful through the dark or did it change your perspective of the art? Most likely the knowledge behind the piece didn’t factor into the beauty. That is the same with watching the Ballet Magnificat’s performance of A Hiding Place.
A Hiding Place is originally an autobiographical novel written by Corrie Ten Boom, with the help of John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The novel begins in 1940s Dutch Harlem at the start of World War II. It follows two Christian sisters, Corrie and Betsie, who secretly challenge Nazi rule by creating a safe place where Jewish families can hide. One day, Nazis invade their home to uncover the hiding place. Corrie and Betsie, along with the Jewish families they hide, are forced into concentration camps. The sisters are taken to the notorious Ravensbrück where they face harsh conditions and extreme suffering while still spreading their faith with others. Even when Betsie dies, Corrie continues to look toward God in all things. The story inspired a ballet of the same name.
The ballet version takes some creative liberties for the story to be transferred onto the stage. The main difference is the evil the sisters face is personified by a Nazi known as Fräulien “The Snake” and the soldiers below her. Betsie, in the ballet version, is killed by “The Snake” versus the actual way she dies which is medical complications due to the harsh conditions in the concentration camp. I could understand that the directors made both these changes for the audience to latch on to one bad guy that faces Corrie.
While watching the performance, I was fascinated with the graceful movements of the ballerinas. That is thanks to Kathy Thibodeaux and Rachel Nel, who directed and choreographed the performance. The way each dance comes to life is one of a kind and thoroughly planned. All the movements the Nazis make convey the order and power they have over Corrie and Betsie. The Nazis’ movements are sharp and deliberate but have a chilling beauty hidden beneath them. While Corrie and Betsie’s movements are more delicate and smoother to show the love they have for God even when the world seems to fall apart around them.
One performer stood out among the rest. Deborah Meis plays the part of the Fräulien. I could not see another ballerina chosen to display the movements she produced. Meis had the opening number of the ballet called “Here I Stand” where the audience sees her put aside her individuality and accept power as a new Nazi leader. In the dance, she takes on the role of “The Snake” and makes her body move as if she was one captivating the audience like Kaa, from The Jungle Book, when he hypnotizes Mowgli. She has the ability to control the stage with only the expressions on her face. Every dance she takes part in, she outshines the rest.
The choice of venue bothered me. I felt that the stage at Newton-Hobson was rather small for such an extravagant ballet. At one point all the dancers were out on the stage at once. I kept watching to make sure no one accidentally tripped each other. The directors and performers handled the auditorium set-back rather well. However, I did find it quite annoying that the artists did not have proper room for each dance.
I was impressed by the use of movement effects. During the dance “Invasion of ten Booms’ Home,” the performers would use slow motion during intense moments. This effect is used to build suspense and lets the audience completely understand the absolute horrors the family and Jews face at the time. Another effect used is shadows. In the dance “Interrogation,” a white cloth is brought out and the dancers perform behind it to create a shadow illusion. These effects impressed me because in most traditional ballets, like The Nutcracker, you don’t see this technique used. I felt that this added a unique touch to an already beautiful ballet.
At the end of the ballet, there was one dance called, “Come Unto Me” that takes place years later in 1967 when Corrie became a peace advocate. Corrie had just finished speaking when the Fräulien comes and asks Corrie for forgiveness. Instead of extending anger, Corrie embraces the Fräulien in a hug. In this tremendous act of love, the Fräulien finds ultimate forgiveness through Jesus Christ. This was one of the most emotional dances as I heard sobs all around me and saw tears engulfing almost every eye in the audience.
Before going, I knew I was going to see a Christian ballet. I knew I was going to find some message related to Christianity. I didn’t realize that the message would hit so close to home. I have had my fair share of struggling to forgive others and I find it hard sometimes to do so even though the Lord wants us to. In the novel, A Hiding Place, Corrie wrote,
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
Forgiveness is a choice that one has to make and through the love and help of Jesus, we can choose to forgive and free ourselves.
Ballet Magnificat’s performance of A Hiding Place is overall breathtaking. It is amazing to see such a harsh, real story have such deep beauty within the heart of the production. From the directors to the performers: I could tell that a lot of heart goes into the ballet. I would highly recommend that this story be seen by all. Whether it would be a play, ballet, or even a book club, hopefully enjoyment can be found in the story. If it turns out to be a ballet, like this, hopefully the stage will be larger.