Performing Arts: Theater
July 25, 2022
The Final Veil is a history lesson. The movement opera tells the story of Franceska Mann, a Polish ballet dancer whose actions sparked one of Auschwitz’s few uprisings. Chelsea's The Cell is a worthy venue for such a story with high ceilings and a stage which the audience walks across to find their seats before the exit is shrouded by curtains.

Some seemingly unremarkable chairs make up the set, rearranged throughout the performance to evoke everything from Warsaw’s Melody Palace—the venue where Mann performed before the war—to the train that carried her and many other Polish Jews to Auschwitz.

The eight female performers, equally split between opera singers and contemporary ballet dancers, are costumed in simple black dresses, the only exception being Cassandra Rosebeetle in the role of Mann. She begins the show lying naked on the slab as a disembodied male voice reads her autopsy before time rolls back and she reenters in absolutely classic ballet attire: an elegantly wafting tutu.

Leaving Warsaw by train, she wears a brilliant red skirt and delicate blouse which, in the final scene, are doffed with burlesque precision to distract the Nazi guards long enough for Mann to snatch a gun and kill an SS officer. This moment of violence and the massacre that followed are not present on The Cell’s stage. Instead, Mann performs her strip- tease for the audience, ending abruptly as a banner falls from the ceiling detailing the aftermath of the uprising through its first-hand accounts.

JL Marlor’s music is beautifully performed by a live quartet of string musicians. The four vocalists are each a powerhouse in their own right, and together their voices cut to the bone with a libretto made up of the words of Holocaust victims and survivors. A standout is the searing soprano Abagael Cheng, whose expressive face as she sang in the interior voice of Mann brought depth to Rosebeetle’s doll-like portrayal.

The choreography by Rosebeetle and Katherine Crockett is compelling, particularly when dancers spin tightly with hands angled upward, syncing with the vocalist’s operatic vibrato. But the most effective moment is the dancer’s alone, a tight line of three rocking with the motion of a train and a cool spotlight pooling on Rosebeetle’s face as she arches back, forming a tableau so memorable it graces the front of the program.

The Final Veil is a somber affair, but its attention to how history is remembered is careful and transfixing.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

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