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Against the Railing, Redux


Eleven years ago, Tara Zaffuto Mullins created a dance inspired by the life of her grandmother, who at age 16 emigrated from Sicily to the United States.

Maddalena Lucchese left her parents behind and headed to a new country. Young and scared, she traveled by ship with her aunt to America. She would meet her future husband, Ferdinando Zaffuto, who had arrived in New York a year earlier; their marriage had been arranged back home.

In 2012, in her first year as assistant director of the dance program at NC State, Mullins set this work on the members of the NCSU Dance Company (now State Dance Company).

For the spring 2020 concert by the State Dance Company, Mullins – now the director of the Dance Program – felt it was a good time to not only revisit this dance work, but to expand it to reflect immigration stories from members of the company and the NC State community.

In the years since Mullins first choreographed Against the Railing, the issues surrounding immigration have been on the forefront of our conversations, and have received extensive media coverage. “I’m trying to get to our personal stories,” she explained. “I want to inspire people to have conversations about immigration by humanizing the discussion.”

“I want to inspire people to have conversations about immigration by humanizing the discussion.”

Tara Zaffuto Mullins

Mullins’ dance students offer a range of rich family history that will be reflected in the revised work.

The grandmother of Jenna Finkelstein (junior in biochemistry with a minor in dance) left Germany during the Holocaust, immigrating to Uruguay. The great-great-great grandparents of dancer Madison Johnson (senior in psychology) met as stowaways on a ship from Ireland to the U.S. And the journey to America story for LilyGrace Wolfe (junior in communication media with a minor in arts studies) is even more poignant. As an infant, LilyGrace was found in a cardboard box in a park in China and taken to an orphanage. Her American parents adopted her from that orphanage.

Mullins added, “We live in a time that thrives on sound bites, which serve to disconnect and divide human beings. Art can provide bridges to encourage important conversations that help humanize political issues. It is my hope that Against the Railing will do just that.”

This article was originally published in the spring 2020 issue of #creativestate, the official magazine of Arts NC State.