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Still of the Production On Hela

The Color of Cells

2019, Solo

This is the story of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman, whose cells became the basis for the first “immortal” cell line in modern medicine. It is also a story of ethics and privilege.

About the Piece

The dance project confronts the history of the HeLa cells, the first human cell line to be cultivated in a laboratory. The cells were taken from Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman who died of cervical cancer in 1951. During treatment against the tumor, the cells were extracted and passed on to a laboratory without her knowledge. There it was discovered that the cells were “immortal”, that they keep dividing infinitely. Scientists were able to grow the first human cell line out of them, and later made numerous medical discoveries such as polio vaccination, as well as advances in cancer and HIV/AIDS research.

The choreographer Christoph Winkler, who has had cancer himself for a year, relates his own experience with illness to the history of the HeLa cells in a documentary dance performance. Collaborating with the dancer Lois Alexander he creates a solo that engages with questions of ethics, privilege, and racism.

With music by Sun Ra, Matana Roberts, Alice Coltrance, Max Roach, and others.


Christoph Winkler - On Hela Trailer from Christoph Winkler on Vimeo.


Concept: Christoph Winkler | Dance: Lois Alexander | Production Manager: laura Biagioni |Technical Director: Fabian Eichner | Video Installation: Josephine Freiberg | Production Assistant: Gabriella Fiore |

A Christoph Winkler production in collaboration with Ballhaus Ost. Funded by the Berliner Senatsverwaltung für Kultur and Europa.