Asya Zlatina’s Barry: Mamaloshen in Dance – Bringing our loved ones back to life

by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Augustina Iohan

On March 17, 2019, the work of Asya Zlatina, presented by The Multicultural Arts Exchange,  came to life for the second time at The Congregations of Shaare Shamayim Synagogue in Philadelphia. Barry: Mamaloshen in Dance is a commemoration of the choreographer’s own grandparents and Zlatina’s means of “bringing our loved ones back to life.” I was lucky to have been an audience member and to have received healing for the recent loss of my own grandmother. Barry arrived in my world at just the right time.

Set to the Yiddish music of The Barry Sisters, Barry was chock full of spunk, romance, lamentation, and humor. I asked Zlatina how deeply her connection ran to the music. Her choice was made because it was the soundtrack of her childhood world, and her grandmother could often be found singing along to their music.

The Way It Was was the opening duet, a story told with high energy, vibrant skirts, and a hug shared between dancers, Asya Zlatina and Lydia Di Iorio. Gestured arm movements reflected serving, washing and the overall actions of everyday life while the feet playfully transitioned the dancers around the space.

Belz and Child’s Play followed with appearances from Zlatina and dancers Harlee Trautman, Sarah Warren, Lydia Di Iorio, Courtney Cognigatti and Alisa Iacovelli. A clear dynamic of household life and routine was established, a solemn reminder of how the household must press on even amidst peril. Zlatina said, “war never waits for you to finish; it just comes.”   Multiple scenes were happening at once, as so often happens in the midst of chaos. The movement that followed was quick and methodical, yet tender moments were seen and felt. An embrace or a handhold allowed reprieve, and humanity to the busy nature of women at work.

Interlude was a salute to marriage and the habits of men that women take notice to. Swaying hips, slouched shoulders and swinging arms like those of soldiers along to upbeat music created a common ground for exhausted wives to meet at. It ended with each of the dancers pushing past each other to look at something beyond the stage. Their gaze was hopeful, perhaps, for a peek at something new or something better.

Yiddishe Tango was soft in comparison to Interlude, and the soloist Alisa Iacovelli moved with a sense of longing for a dance partner to fill the space. Geseleh brought the rest of the dancers along. Its tone was mournful, and with the soloist moving against the group, she is isolated in her grief while the rest of the world moves on.

Bagel Trio followed, where the dancers coupled strong arm movements with rest beside one another. Each movement from Zlatina, Warren, and Trautman was accomplished with support from another dancer, and even when they weren’t physically supported by the other, the dancers moved as one. Ending with Yiddishe Mama, I saw the work come to a joyful close.

From The Way It Was up until the bows, each section had a distinct personality. After the show, the audience had a chance to learn about each dancer, as well as Asya’s approach to choreography. With Barry, the opening duet was inspired by the music, and beyond that, the movement was generated with the narrative in mind.

Asya recalled the joy her family gave her and empathized with her ancestors that persevered in the throes of war. I learned many lessons in this work, including that life is not without difficulty, but it is also not without joy. It is a joy with a compromise that all must endure.

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