By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Last October’s heinous hate crime that left 11 dead at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue was a tragedy that reverberated far beyond the city. Former Pittsburgh resident Diane Sharp-Nachsin felt those reverberations as a call to action. On Feb. 16 at Shady Side Academy’s Hillman Center for Performing Arts in Fox Chapel, Sharp-Nachsin and her Philadelphia-based SHARP Dance Company will present SPREADING LOVE CONQUERING HATE, a benefit performance whose proceeds will be donated to the families of the Tree of Life synagogue victims.
“I was shocked by it all and really wanted to do something,” Sharp-Nachsin said. “If I can bring some light into people’s lives for a time and raise some money for the families, I am all about it.”
A graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), Sharp-Nachsin’s Pittsburgh connection began in the early 1990s as a member of the Mary Miller Dance Company. It’s a connection she has maintained ever since with yearly visits to the city to see friends. Eventually returning to her native Philadelphia, she founded SHARP Dance Company in 2006. The contemporary/modern dance troupe has performed in cities throughout the U.S. including New York, Chicago, Portland and Cincinnati as well as abroad in Italy, England and Greece.
Taking up this cause was important for Sharp-Nachsin and her company because of the connections to Jewish communities they made while touring their dance-theater work 669 inspired by the story of Sir Nicholas Winton who saved 669 children from the Holocaust. The work’s message of resilience in the face of tragedy is one Sharp-Nachsin feels might resonate and promote healing in Pittsburgh.
The featured work on SPREADING LOVE CONQUERING HATE, 669 will comprise the second half of the 90-minute program that begins with Sharp-Nachsin’s trio “Blind Faith” (2009) set to music by Kate Bush.
Next, company dancer Caroline Butcher’s “NOT WITH UNCERTAINTY” (2012) is an uplifting piece for five women (including Butcher) inspired by her sister Leigh Anne Hague’s artwork and danced to music by Zoë Keating.
Rounding out the program’s first half will be the company’s latest work “PUZZLE” (2018.) Co-created by Sharp-Nachsin and Joe Cotler of Philadelphia’s Koresh Dance Company, the multi-stylistic dance work for six dancers in three sections is set to music Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi and others. According to Sharp-Nachsin, it is “a collaborative modern dance experience designed to piece together diverse life experiences.” “PUZZLE” gets its name from the assemblage of hers and Cotler’s choreography coming together in pieces to make the eight and a half minute work.
“We wanted to include a dance that was just pure, strong movement piece to counterbalance the seriousness of ‘669’,” Sharp-Nachsin said.
Discovering Winton’s story via a 1988 clip from the BBC Television show That’s Life she came across on Facebook that told of how he smuggled 669 children, mostly Jews, out of Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II and showing his tearful reunion with several of them decades afterwards struck Sharp-Nachsin. “It was the most emotional and beautiful thing I have seen” she said, knowing she had to make a dance work about.
Set to an original score by Liliya Danieva from Moscow, Russia who Sharp-Nachsin also discovered online, “669” comes at Winton’s story and the rescue, known as the Czech Kindertransport, from the point of view of the parents of the children saved and the devastating sacrifices they made to do so. Part Schindler’s List, part Sophie’s Choice, the work’s five sections (including an aerial component) take the viewer on an emotional roller coaster chock-full of heart wrenching and poignant moments including symbolic imagery of red pieces of fabric hung about the stage space to represent those children saved.
According to Sharp-Nachsin, she makes it a priority to take all of her works and turn them into a meaningful experience. Calling this benefit one of the proudest moments of her career, her hope is that SPREADING LOVE CONQUERING HATE will be another of those meaningful experiences that will touch audience-members’ hearts and minds.
SHARP Dance Company presents SPREADING LOVE CONQUERING HATE, 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 16; Shady Side Academy’s Hillman Center for Performing, 423 Fox Chapel Road. Tickets are $28 and available at thehillman.org or by calling (412) 968-3040. All proceeds benefit the families of the Tree of Life synagogue victims.
Current Intern Maddie Eury contributed to this story.