Fringe Festival Events Incorporate Jewish Themes

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The Philadelphia Fringe-Arts Festival is just around the corner, and Asya Zlatina still can’t believe she’s a part of it — especially with her first evening-length choreographed work.
“I can’t even tell you, this is so exciting,” she gushed.
Zlatina will premiere her work BARRY: Mamaloshen in Dance! at the Gershman Y on Sept. 11 at 4 p.m.
A dancer with Philadelphia’s Koresh Dance Company for the last eight years, Zlatina had started by performing in and creating small pieces in various showcases. But when she wanted to apply for a showcase for FringeArt’s monthly Scratch Night, she was told it would have to be for the festival.
“I heard of the Fringe Festival, but I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t have any desire to create my own show,” she recalled. “As soon as they prompted me with, ‘You can’t do anything with us unless it’s the Fringe,’ bam out of nowhere, now there’s a show.”
She drew inspiration from shorter pieces she previously created featuring music from the Barry Sisters, the famous Yiddish swing singers, which reminded Zlatina of her mother and grandparents singing when she was growing up.
The show focuses on her grandparents’ experience and the things they were interested in, such as Yiddish — a story she believes many will relate to.
Born in Moscow, Zlatina moved to the U.S. with her mother and grandparents in 1992. Her grandparents were from Chechnya, originally, which was where her mother had grown up as well, before the war.
The narrative of the performances focuses on nostalgia and memories, as well as the process of picking oneself up after devastation and finding the positives in life.
“As an immigrant, I really believe in integrating to the community that’s giving you a new home and contributing to that society,” she said, “but you don’t want to blend so much that everything your family has gone through gets erased. It always made me sad, my grandparents had so much devastation in their lives — so much anti-Semitism and physical brutality and loss of life and somehow these people, instead of complaining, they always focused on the good things in life.
“It’s really cool they don’t lay down and say, ‘You tried to kill us, let’s cry about it.’ This show really is a tribute to them.”
Using music by the Barry Sisters is also significant, as the klezmer duo was rising to fame at the same time the Nazis were trying to wipe out their culture.
“When I picture the music, I see things happening in my head, and I’m excited for the vision that I had to be realized,” she said. “If my grandparents were alive, they’d be very happy. It would have given them a jumping in their heart that someone cares about the things that they like.
“Yiddish exists, it’s not just a gibberish noise, it actually means something,” she continued with a laugh.
She hopes that younger and older generations find meaning in the performance.
“For everyone who doesn’t have a voice anymore and all these people that have been oppressed because of their culture, they’re slowly leaving us and maybe they don’t want to be so vocal,” she said. “When this generation that has suffered a lot dies off, I want them to be immortal. Making something like this makes them live forever. Even if I can touch five people who’ve never heard Yiddish before, that’s already enough.”
Meanwhile, another dance performance will take place during September — featuring performers more agile than you’ll probably ever be.
Almanac Dance Circus Theatre will present Exile 2588, an acrobatic folk-music space-epic adaptation of the Greek story of Io — one of Zeus’ many lovers. Zeus turned into a cow to hide his affair from wife Hera, but Io eventually returned to human form and found her way to Earth. The music comes from Philadelphia folk duo Chickabiddy.
Almanac co-founder Ben Grinberg met Emily Schuman of Chickabiddy at a Chanukah party he held at his Philadelphia home, “so our Jewishness has everything to do with bringing this collaboration about.”
The company had been interested in making a space odyssey for some time, Grinberg said.
“One of our company members has this belief that we are the generation of people that will live forever,” he explained via email, “so the show is really about examining a future in which human beings have conquered death and whether that will ultimately be a good thing or not. It’s also loosely based on the Greek myth of Io as it comes to us from Prometheus Bound, which is a play with themes I’ve been wanting to explore since I studied it in college.”
Grinberg founded Almanac in 2013 with a classmate he met at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training in Philadelphia, but he’s been performing since he was 11.
He hopes the layers of the performance “will inspire curiosity and excitement for audiences of all kinds.”
“Io’s journey can at times be sad and lonely,” he said, “but it’s relatable and invigorating to see a person full of individuality and a spirit of discovery in a world governed by regulations and rules. My fellow performers are some of the most talented people I’ve ever worked with and their physical virtuosity should stun and inspire audience members on a visceral level. And Chickabiddy’s music is heartbreakingly, achingly beautiful folk music that I think everyone can relate to emotionally.”
Exile won’t be the first time Almanac has participated in the Fringe Festival. Grinberg is looking forward to experiencing the excitement the festival presents — but hopefully he won’t be too tired.
“The Fringe Festival is truly a magical time in Philadelphia,” he said. “You can feel the energy of creativity and risk-taking emanating from the venues and bars, radiating off artists and audience members and spilling out onto the street. There’s so much to see and do — I can’t wait to lose myself in the chaos of it.
“But not too much — I’ve just got to make sure I can sleep so I can still do the acrobatics in Exile 2588.”
Exile 2588 will be presented at the Painted Bride Arts Center throughout the month starting Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. Full dates and times can be found on Almanac’s website.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740

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