Kevin Gael Thomas is most comfortable expressing himself through art.
“I started ballet at a very young since I was 8 years old and it was always a way for me to express myself,” he said.
Thomas is a dancer with the Colorado Ballet and the founder of his own dance troupe called the “Thomas Dance Project.”
The French-born ballet dancer was commissioned by the Alliance Francaise De Denver to choreograph a piece fit for world-renowned humanitarian, Father Patrick Desbois.
Desbois is a prominent French priest who has devoted his life to researching the Holocaust and genocide. He's in Denver to share his knowledge with local educators.
“My organization is here to teach professors in Denver from all of Colorado to study the past because we copy the past,” he explained.
Desbois described his organization, Yahad – In Unum, as “a French non-profit and American non-profit.” He said that for the past 15 years the organization has investigated the shootings “of the Jews and Gypsies by the Nazis. In Post-Soviet territories, we have found 1.4 million Jews at the moment.”
Desbois’ personal history sparked his interest in researching the Holocaust. During World War II, his grandfather was captured by the Nazis and sent to a prisoner of war camp in Ukraine.
Like Desbois, Thomas’ grandfather endured a similar fate. His mother fled Vietnam for France during the Vietnam War.
“The reason she had to leave Vietnam was because of the war," he said. "My grandfather was fighting on the American side and at the end of the war when the enemy took over the country, they captured him and sent him into the reeducation camp. And he never made it out alive of this camp. And that story resonated a lot through my childhood.”
Two different wars had a similar impact on Desbois and Thomas.
“It’s an international affair," said Desbois. “We have to study it.”
“Too many wars happen, too many conflicts all over the world and unfortunately history tends to repeat itself,” Thomas said. “And because of that we must remind our generation not to repeat those same mistakes.”
Thomas found his inspiration for the Alliance Francaise dance performance from a prominent European jazz guitarist named Django Reinhardt.
“I was in France in the month of April and I saw a film about Django Reinhardt, the guitarist,” explained Thomas. “Before Jimi Hendrix, there was Django Reinhardt in Paris who created beautiful pieces of music. And he was chased by the Nazis during the war and had to flee the Nazis and fled to Switzerland. While he was in Switzerland away from his community, the Romani community, he created this beautiful Requiem."
"And this summer I saw a film about the creation of the Requiem and about his life and it made me want to create a piece in correlation with the theme of the Holocaust and that’s how the whole piece came together.”
Thomas said crafting this dance was a joy.
“For me, this is such a privilege to be able through my art to create something beautiful and to have a real meaning in our art I think that is the most important thing,” he said.
Desbois will speak at the History Colorado Center on Monday night. That event is free and open to the public.
And his traveling exhibit, “Holocaust by Bullets” is currently in Temple Sinai in Denver. For more information, visit this link.
For more information on the Thomas Dance Project, visit http://thomasdanceproject.com/