Ellington Nichols became a company apprentice at Orland Park-based Ballet 5:8 in 2019 and danced in the premiere of “Butterfly: Hope in the Terezin Ghetto” that same year.
The descendant of Holocaust survivors, now a Ballet 5:8 company artist, will conduct the work on Feb. 11 at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts on the University of Chicago campus in Chicago’s Hyde Park district.
“Even though Helga’s story is not my story and my great-grandfather’s story is not my story, I am sharing their stories and shedding light on these difficult issues,” Nichols said of her role as Holocaust survivor Helga Weiss. Entered the Terezin Jewish ghetto at the age of 12.
“One of the most important things I want people to know is that these people were real people and they mattered. Every single story matters. It’s really special to have that personal connection and personal legacy to share their stories with.”
Ballet 5:8 co-founder and artistic director Julianna Rubio Slager choreographed “Butterfly,” which tells the story of Weiss and art teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis during the Holocaust, featuring music composed in Terezin and artwork by Terezin children.
“It’s very special to have a close-knit group that we can produce so much emotion on stage with, because I couldn’t tell this story alone. This is a group effort. “I have great respect for all my colleagues for being able to dive deep into the characters to deliver such a beautiful performance,” said Nichols.
His great-grandfather, Erwin Spandau, escaped from three concentration camps, including digging a tunnel with another man and crawling to freedom to escape machine gun fire and dogs.
“Once he was on the train while running away. He knew he wouldn’t survive if he reached the destination. Luckily there was a Nazi who was compassionate, uncuffed him and told him to escape through the bathroom window,” said Nichols, of Tinley Park.
“He broke his knee jumping off the train to the point where he couldn’t walk. He ended up crawling 10 miles to get to safety. “I was told that he later found out that the Nazi who helped my great-grandfather had been shot by other Nazis because they shouldn’t have done that.”
His great-uncle, Henry Bickel, a survivor of many camps, was interviewed for an oral history study for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.
“The Nazis didn’t want to get rid of her because she could speak and write German and she could sew, so she worked in many camps sewing tapestries and curtains,” said Nichols.
“What I learned in studying Helga’s story, and the story of the Jewish people in general, is that they never lose hope.”
Ballet 5:8’s Logan Center production also includes the world premieres of “Wind,” choreographed by Steve Rooks and inspired by the music of Alfonso Peduto, and Slager’s “Counterpart,” a pas de deux billed as a testament to the transformative collaboration of authentic ballets. It also includes. partnership.
The show’s dancers include residents of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, Frankfort, New Lenox, Orland Park and Tinley Park.
When: 11 February 15:00
Where: Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., Chicago
Information: 312-725-4752; bale58.org
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.