There are few more poignant Holocaust stories than the events surrounding the long self-imposed incarceration of Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam and the subsequent publication of the young girl’s diary The story of Frank’s time in the family’s hideout and the family’s eventual capture by the Germans will be given a new highly visual and emotive rendition by Czech dancer and actress Mirenka Cechova when she performs The Voice of Anne Frank at this year’s Israeli Fringe Theater Festival in Acre.
Cechova conceived the solo show in 2007 and has performed it all over the world over the last seven years. It has received a string of prestigious official kudos, including the Outstanding Performance Award at the Prague Fringe Festival and Top Overseas Production at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. Even so, Cechova says she is very excited at the prospect of bringing the show to this part of the world.
“It is very special to bring this to Israel. It has been my aim from the very beginning. I wanted to bring it to a place where people understand the story very deeply.
I am looking forward to the response of the audience and to the connection with the people,” she says.
The emotional and historical link between Israel and the Holocaust is self-evident, but how do audiences in other countries around the world respond to this story? While people in South Africa may identify with certain aspects of oppression conveyed in The Voice of Anne Frank, others who perhaps have no personal or family experience of such circumstances may respond differently.
“I think there is a common element, and it is a very deep emotional connection from all places through the story of a 13-year-old girl,” observes Cechova. “This is a girl who is suffering in her special circumstances, but she is also going through puberty and has her adolescent troubles.”
In addition to the personal predicament in which Anne Frank found herself, Cechova believes that the members of different audiences tend to relate to the show in a very personal way and that their personal and cultural background can color the way they read into the dramatic stage action. “Audiences everywhere accept this play very strongly but, of course, there are places where they have had their own struggles, and they put their own experiences into the performance,” Cechova notes. “In South Africa, there was a strong response from the people who were oppressed during apartheid, so they understood the performance in their own way.”
And, possibly more poignantly, Cechova says she is particularly aware of the fact that there could be youngsters in her audiences who may be able to readily identify with many of the emotions the heroine of the story experienced.
“I think it is very important to perform this show for children who are the same age as Anne Frank was, and they can relate very much to this and can learn this topic and study the context around Anne Frank,” she says.
Cechova believes there is a precious educational message to be conveyed through The Voice of Anne Frank.
“I feel it is very important to discuss the subject with the young people after my shows, to explain to them more about what Anne Frank was and to give them knowledge of her story and the heritage she is spreading,” she says.
The 32-year-old Cechova is no stranger to challenging production themes. A couple of years ago she presented S/He Is Nancy Joe, a daring solo dance show about transgender issues.
And Dante: Light in the Darkness and The Death of Marquis de Sade, which she performed last year with the Tantehorse physical mime theater company, were not exactly a physical or emotional walk in the park, either.
As the subject matter suggests, The Voice of Anne Frank is a highly dramatic show based on a very emotive story.
“This is a very strong piece for me personally as well, as I feel as if I am a bit addicted to performing this piece because I feel it is very important to perform this show, possibly even more than other pieces I do. I love the others too, but this one is special,” she admits.
It appears that, polished professional skills notwithstanding, Cechova has a vested interest in portraying Anne Frank’s story.
“People are always asking me if I am Jewish. I am not Jewish,” says the dancer, “but some of my relatives were sent to concentration camps. This topic was discussed in my family all the time since my childhood, so I grew up in this context and paradigm. That is why this production is very important for me.”
Cechova first encountered the story of the young Jewish Dutch girl at school.
“I read it when I was 13. It is part of the education system,” she explains. “But I read it a second time when I was a student in the theater faculty, and that time I was really sucked into it. I was old enough to really understand and appreciate it.”
There was no turning back.
“At the time, I thought I would love to take a year off to really research the topic and learn about other stories, not just the one about Anne Frank,” she continues.
“I wanted to do a performance that would honor Anne.”
Initially, Cechova came up with a grand plan but eventually realized she would have to scale it back.
“Originally, the show had three parts. The first was about The Diary of Anne Frank, which lasts an hour like it does today. Then there were the second and third parts that were about other stories from the Holocaust. But that became a very long piece for the audience, and very tough,” she says.
So we are left with the one-hour production, which is replete with drama, high emotion and even humor. There are lighter moments in between the dark passages, and it is fair to say that few in the audience will remain unmoved by the work.
For those who would like to talk to Cechova about the performances, she will be available for questions or just to chat after the shows.
The show is in English. The part of Kitty is “played” by the cello.
For tickets and more information about the Israeli Fringe Theater Festival in Acre: (08) 837- 7777, www.accofestival.co.il and http://barak-tickets.co.il/