Needle and Thread starts from a list of 600 given names of Holocaust victims collected by Yad Vashem in an extensive and ongoing project: Pages of Testimony (reproduced on the inside cover). The work is a commemorative performance that develops from the dance and installation practices of Suzanne Miller and Mindy Yan Miller. Mindy sits and sews onto a large pieced skirt, constructed from unwanted garments, adding her thoughts and labour, stitch by stitch. Suzanne wears the skirt and performs a series of embodied inscriptions, tracing each of the given names gathered from the Pages of Testimony. Allan Paivio’s sound design deploys whispers and song as the names punctuate and weave through an ambient industrial undertone, contrasted with the calls of songbirds.
Choreographer: Suzanne Miller
Performers: Suzanne Miller, Isabelle Middleton, Sadye Middleton, Ainsley McNeaney, Tim Middleton and Michelle Miller
Music: Allan Paivio
Our ongoing project – Needle and Thread, has been presented at several different venues including a Temple, a Church, at galleries, museums and theatres. Since its premiere in 2018 at Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona, we have added new elements to the production such as a video, a scribe, a whisperer, and a singer.
As we plan for future events, and with each rehearsal and public presentation of Needle and Thread, the metaphor of a needle and thread further connects us to the names and lineage – our Jewish forebears and Holocaust history.
Suzanne Miller is a company director (Suzanne Miller & Allan Paivio Productions), choreographer, dancer and teacher based in Montreal Canada. Since 1985, her company has toured over five continents, performing and teaching through festivals, residencies and by commissions.
Her process for Needle and Thread uses language as a means to shape the choreography. She invented a movement alphabet: 26 gestural characters that serve as equivalents for letters (from A-Z). It starts with an “A” cupped in both hands, “B” is a handle, “C” is a cradle, “D” is a circle and a line, “E” is a seed…and it ends with “Z” a zigzag. Once established by rote, employing the mechanics of repetition to learn, the gestural alphabet naturally evolved into a kind of dance/writing. In this way, the dance attends to the process of forming letters or characters that serve as visible signs of ideas, words and importantly, the symbolic gesture of individual names.
Special thanks to Elizabeth Babyn for her generosity and assistance in sewing the skirt, to Marcus Miller for his graphic and editorial support, Elizabeth, Marcus, Michelle Miller and Tim Middleton for performing at different venues as scribes and whisperers and to Ainsley McNeaney for singing her heart out. Credit goes to Naomi Jackson and her team for organizing “Jews and Jewishness in the Dance World” conference at Arizona State University (2018) where “Needle and Thread” first premiered. This project was supported in part by a Concordia University Part-time Union Professional Development Award.