Philly Fringe: Celebrating Jewish survivors with spirited dance

As tribute to her grandparents, choreographer Asya Zlatina created a spirited show set to Yiddish jazz.

In the 1940s and 50s, one of the hottest bands in the country was a Yiddish jazz duo. No, really.

The Barry Sisters, as Minne and Clara Bagelman were known, came up during the pre-WWII era, found success on radio, went on national tour and played the Ed Sullivan show. They also traveled overseas to sing for the troops.

Their harmonies will form the soundtrack to “Barry: Mamaloshen in Dance!”, a Fringe Festival show that celebrates surviving the Holocaust, finding ways to be happy in the face of hardship, and the Yiddish language as a repository of Jewish culture.

“My grandparents, may they rest in peace, came from pogroms in their shtetls,” says choreographer Asya Zlatina, referring to the ethnic cleansing massacres her ancestors escaped in the Ukraine and Belarus. They moved to Chechnya, where they faced continued anti-semitism and poverty.

“This show is a tribute to their essence — always joyful no matter how bitterly they wept and what losses they suffered.”

Yiddish was the language Zlatina’s family spoke amongst themselves. “The show is a tribute to their culture, their mother tongue (‘mamaloshen’) and the music they loved and sang.”

Zlatina, who speaks five languages (English, Russian and Hebrew fluently, plus some Spanish and Italian), is herself an immigrant. She moved to the US in 1992, and graduated from Goucher College with a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and dance. For the past eight years, she’s been a member of Koresh Dance Company, and also now holds an MA from Drexel.

Though she’s created shorter pieces before, this is her first full-length work — and she didn’t even expect to do it.

“I wanted to submit a smaller piece to what’s called a ‘Scratch night,’ but it was the last one of the season,” Zlatina explains. “They said, ‘You can do the Fringe….’ I couldn’t stop after that.”

People who go to the 60-minute show can expect a troupe performing modern dance that incorporates some traditional Jewish folk steps. For example, the “chicken,” which Zlatina remembers watching her grandmother do.

“I grew up with them in my home and lost both of them in my teens,” she says. “I miss them everyday and feel that they are slipping away from me. I wish I could talk to them now. This show helps me keep them alive.”

“Barry: Mamaloshen in Dance!” plays at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, at the Levitt Auditorium at 401 S. Broad St. Tickets are $10.

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