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Montreal artist shares grandmother's Holocaust survival story in new performance

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A Holocaust survivor's story is being told in a new performance that weaves personal memories with audio archives, dance, and music.

Montreal-based artist Roger White incorporates recordings of conversations to tell the life story of his grandmother, Marianne Clark.

"When my grandmother was getting into her late 80s, early 90s, she just kind of started opening up about it," he said. "All told, now I probably have between 35 and 40 hours of recorded conversations," said Roger White.

It started as a personal archive project, says White, but it morphed into a mission to discover more about his family history.

Clark's family, part Christian and part Jewish, had their German citizenships revoked, forcing them to leave and start a new life in 1939.

As no one in his family spoke about their past, White says he felt obliged to tell his grandmother's story by incorporating diary excerpts from her early teens.

"She kind of put her old life behind her and started this new one. But thankfully, she had the foresight to save a lot of stuff," said White.

The 70-minute piece "Because You Never Asked" features four dancers conveying memories of White and his grandmother, who died in 2020.

Helen Simard, White's wife, choreographed the performance.

"It's an important story that needs to be heard. And heard in new forms that can appeal to younger generations to create interest in wanting to hear about these stories that can start seeming like older stories from the past," said Simard.

The couple hopes the piece will help people reflect on the effects of war.

"It's important to hear their names and stories because it's unfortunately still relevant today," he said. "These massive crimes against helpless people are still happening," said White.

"Because You Never Asked" runs from April 19 to 22 at Montreal, arts interculturels (MAI).

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