Homer-raised dancer receives Fulbright to study Irish traditional music and dance

Growing up in Alaska has influenced her study and practice of dance through the years

Mariah Maloney, one of the first Homer youth to grow up dancing in the Art Barn on East End Road, received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to Ireland for Irish traditional music fieldwork and postmodern improvisation and choreography. She will leave for Ireland to begin research in early August.

Maloney, who spoke with the Homer News on Aug. 2, said she knew from a young age she wanted to be a dancer.

“As a child, I saw a dance concert in Homer and I knew I wanted to dance. I think I was in third or fourth grade,” Maloney said.

Currently an associate professor in the dance department at State University of New York Brockport, Maloney said her mother, Karen, a musician, along with Jill Berryman, a dance instructor, and Karla Freeman, an artist, in the 1970s wanted to open an art center.

They “resurrected” the Art Barn, which was at the time Otto Kilcher’s mechanic shop, Maloney said.

“The initial vision was that Karla would be doing art classes, Jill would be doing dance and my mother would be doing music sessions,” Maloney said.

Soon after that it turned into primarily a dance space, according to Maloney.

Breezy Berryman, a local dancer, daughter of Jill Berryman, also grew up dancing at the studio. Berryman said as a youth growing up in the 1980s she looked at Maloney as a mentor.

“I remember watching Mariah from the side and having a mentor from the beginning. I remember watching her battement and extension. She was very graceful,” Berryman said. “I think it’s really special that the Art Barn has another generation of dancers using it today.”

The women would later dance together during their time in New York. Berryman went to school at New York University and the women were neighbors in Brooklyn.

Maloney presents choreography nationally and internationally and has also danced professionally with the Trisha Brown Dance Company in New York City as a soloist and ensemble dancer from 1995-2002.

“I had a lot of admiration for Mariah as a member of Trisha Brown’s company and hoped I would get one day. I made it as far to get into a select workshop for classes and to learn company repertoire,” Berryman said.

To get into that cohort itself is worthy of a badge of honor, Maloney said of Berryman’s achievements.

The women have had the opportunity to provide dance workshops together in Homer when Maloney is back to visit. This summer they provided a movement workshop for youth and adults in late July at the Art Barn.

“It’s really special to come back to Homer and see the youth here and the spirit that they really feel about reaching their full potential,” Maloney said. “I think it’s somewhat of a consciousness in the community or the role of Alaska, a sense of space, in general, is different from what I feel when I’m outside in the Lower 48.”

Another recent collaboration Maloney has contributed to in Homer was the 2018 “Advice from an Estuary” hosted by the Bunnell Street Arts Center as an experimental creative performance piece rooted in the Beluga Slough.

The event featured poetry from local poet Wendy Erd, original music from respected composer Lawrence Moss played by Homer musicians Mannfried Funk (cello) and Daniel Perry (violin). Maloney provided dance choreography for the event.

Maloney first started studying and choreographing to Irish music in about 2008. Her Fulbright award will include “listening to as much live folk music as I possibly can.”

She’ll be in Ennis, Ireland, in County Clare.

“It’s one of the hotbeds of Irish traditional music. There are loads of musicians who gravitate there to play music,” Maloney said.

“I just want to be immersed in the every day culture of Irish music and dance so that I’m really living in it and that’s how this application process started.”

According to a press release from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Maloney will research at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick. The intent of the project is to conduct artistic fieldwork and studio-based research in the field of dance, exploring the intersection of Irish traditional music and dance forms. The research will culminate in a new choreographic work and creation of a dance for film and will bring new works to the dance communities in Ireland and the United States.

“Fulbrighters engage in cutting-edge research and expand their professional networks, often continuing collaborations starting abroad. Upon returning to their home countries and institutions, they share stories and often become active supporters of international exchange,” the release says.

The Fulbright program encourages making strong connections with people the scholars interact with and Maloney hopes to somehow bring some of those connections back to Homer someday, too.

“I really feel that making connections is important, especially here because this is my true home. I think dancing on the landscapes here has really influenced me through all aspects of family and friends,” Maloney said.