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Upcoming dance tells the story of a Holocaust survivor

December 20, 2011

MEDIA CONTACT: Hilary Dickinson at or 608-363-2849

Chris Johnson, professor of theatre arts (dance), is in the midst of re-staging her award-winning “Wreath of Memories.”

The dance, which includes poetry, music and projections, is inspired by the real-life story of Holocaust survivor Raja Zhandnikova whom Johnson met.

"Wreath of Memories" begins with 21 dancers entering the stage with candles, as if telling a story or remembering those lost.The first time the audience meets Zhandnikova's character, there are four dancers performing and four speaking the role. Throughout the performance, the dancers and speakers are reduced one by one until finally there is only one of each character. Though there is a point where everyone else is lost, it is important they remain on stage because, at the end, the girl remembers everyone.

“Wreath of Memories” was initially performed in 2002 at Chelonia and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2004 at Moscow’s “Festival of Choreographic Collectives,” and in 2011 for Holocaust Remembrance Day. It will be performed again at Chelonia 2012 from Feb. 2 through Feb. 5, 2012.

In choreographing the piece, Johnson researched extensively by reading, viewing films, visiting museums and speaking with experts in religious studies and history.

Though at one point seven years passed without a performance of “Wreath of Memories,” Johnson knew that someday she would come back to the project.

“I was very grateful for the opportunity to come back to it,” said Johnson, adding that this dance is precious to her in a way most dances are not. “It was fun to rediscover the process. There are things I could’ve done the same, but it’s been interesting in rehearsal to allow it to shift. Had there been a shorter amount of time in between, it would have been harder to do that."

To learn more about “Wreath of Memories,” visit

Source:  Chris Johnson is a professor of dance. She usually teaches classes in advanced modern dance, choreography, dance kinesiology, and jazz technique classes, in addition to directing the December Dance Workshop Performance and Chelonia. Johnson received the James R. Underkofler Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2002. She regularly presents her work at the American College Dance Association regional festivals. Johnson can serve as a media contact for topics related to her research and teaching.