Home Canadian News Scorching Memories – Review of Nancy Athan-Mylonas’ Paean to Greek Refugees

Scorching Memories – Review of Nancy Athan-Mylonas’ Paean to Greek Refugees

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The unstoppable Nancy Athan-Mylonas has written, devised and choreographed an instructive and entertaining production for the Greek community. It is a commemoration, a requiem and in a way a celebration of the victims and survivors of the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922.
The Catastrophe refers generally to the defeat of the Greek forces in Anatolia and more specifically to the burning of Smyrna in 1922. The Turkish forces massacred tens of thousands of Greeks and eventually expelled almost one million and a half Greeks from their homeland to mainland Greece. The event and its consequences remains an open wound for the heirs of the Greek population of Asia Minor, a genocidal atrocity that Turkey denies ever happened.
Those that survived the massacre left, as Athan-Mylonas writes, with their music, their songs, their dances and their pride. And nothing else. In the end they almost doubled the population of Athens and Thessaloniki and from well-off citizens ended up as destitute refugees in Greece, a country that could not feed its own inhabitants.
The production opens with a song and dance routine based loosely on the poem The Peddler by Ioannis Griparis. As with much of Nancy’s work, this is no small production. A stageful of singers, dancers and narrators take over the performance. There is a chorus, (a dozen or so), Narrators (about the same number), Dancers (too many to count) and Intermediate and Junior Melissakia (a small busload). Taso Nikopoulos plays the Peddler, Helena Merekoulias is Pagani and Eugenia Nicolaou is the Widow. The large troupe has the audience in the palm of their hands and that is high praise indeed.
Scorching Memories begins with searing stories from the lives of refugees from Asia Minor from 1922 to 1942. But the tragic stories are intermingled with music and singing from the rich heritage that the newcomers brought to Greece. The refugees carried with them the traditional songs of Smyrna, the “Smirneika” and they developed the “rebetika” that came to dominate Greek popular music.
There are harrowing stories of escaping from the burning city and the murders, plunder and rapes of Greeks by Turkish soldiers. The situation for those who reached the harbour of Smyrna was even worse. They tried in vain to reach the few boats and attempted to climb into them. Their hands were cut off and the water turned red with their blood and floating body parts.
They arrived in Greece and they are haunted by memories of loved ones who did not make it or simply refuse to accept the fact that they are dead. The well-off Smyrnians are reduced to poverty and worse awaits them. World War II brings hunger and death. It also brings the Resistance and with it treachery and more death.
The dramatic stories make their impact and many in the audience were left in tears. But music, singing and dancing were the dominant feature of the production. They told the stories of the refugees in their own language and expressed all the horrors, the bravery, the longing for the irretrievably lost past and the eternal hope for the future.
Nancy Athan-Mylonas is the indispensable person for every aspect of the show. From the uncertain dancing steps of a four-year old, to the dramatic, sometimes humorous stories, to the overall success, kudos goes to her.
She is not alone but there is not enough space to give due credit to everyone. The talented and lovely-voiced Athina Malli is the Musical Director of the production as well as a singer and instrumentalist.
Actors, musicians and singers add up to some twenty five people on stage. A few mentions. Christina Houtris plays the worldly, entrepreneurial and deeply humane Kyra Anggelo. Magda Paspali is the tragic mother who clutches her child’s blankets unable to accept the fact that her child is no longer in them. Christine El Baramawi plays Iphigenia, a girl who witnessed an event of such horror that she has lost the ability to utter a word. Kostas Bakas and Taso Nikopoulos are two of her friends who will play dramatic and tragic roles in her life.
Helena Merekoulias deserves praise for her talents as a ballet choreographer, teacher and dancer.
There are light moments amidst to horrors. The irrepressible Irene Bitha Georgalidis can make an audience laugh at will and she does every time she walks on stage.
The Asia Minor catastrophe occurred almost a hundred years ago and there are no survivors who have direct memories of it. But stories have been passed down through generations and almost all heirs of the survivors carry the tragic stories of their ancestors as if they lived through them themselves. Nancy Athan-Mylonas and the seventy-five performers and numerous volunteers tapped into those tragic events, the cultural life of the Smyrnians and the historical memories to enthrall the audience at the Hamazkayin Theatre.
Scorching Memories by Nancy Athan-Mylonas was performed three times on February 2 and 3, 2019 at the Hamazkayin Theatre.