At 8 pm on a busy weekday evening, business people, students, children and artists gathered in a large open blacktop in the heart of San Francisco. People from all walks of life, and all levels of affluence flocked to the free performance, where the allure of the unexpected hovered in the air. What was to happen on the side of this 10-story building?
Amongst the crowd, one woman carried a large white sack, her hair bedraggled and her shoes worn thin — a reminder that the city of the golden gate suffers from a great and constantly widening income disparity. The first chords of a haunting melody began, as three women descended from the top edge of the building. Echoing over and over again, the words “You can’t lie down” the women performed a graceful but clearly tiresome aerial waltz. Each time a dancer flopped over a ladder chair, suspended to the edge of the building, the chords of the song would propel her off the chair once again. Artistic Director, Jo Kreiter of Flyaway Productions said “I like to make dances where an issue really lives. I like to tap into what the site knows, what it sees.”
Kreiter’s Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane explored the plight of homeless women in San Francisco with aerial dance. “I wanted to sharpen a feminist lens on urban poverty so I chose to focus on older homeless women- their circumstance, vulnerability and stamina.” Working with award- winning journalist Rose Aguilar, Flyaway Productions interviewed six women. Kreiter then determined the flow of the piece based on material form the interviews and introduced various props that further engaged the content of the stories. Each section of the piece relied on a specific prop that the aerial dancers used to propel themselves through the air.
In a particularly poignant section, a dancer hoisted herself from the blacktop to the top of the building, pulling a cage of personal items with her. Pamela Z’s music compilation spoke to the pain and turmoil of being forced to choose which items to keep when living in the streets. “You can’t take everything,” the vocals echoed as the dancer used all her strength to pull herself and the cage up the building. Another section used three metal umbrellas as “a metaphor for shelter.” Kreiter: “I wanted to imagine an ideal shelter, the idea of home and how beautiful and fulfilling that can be.” In some moments the umbrellas aided the flight of the dancers, at other times the umbrella cradled and rocked the dancer gently in mid-air.
The graceful nature of aerial dance makes it a surprising medium to explore the gritty and often unrefined realities of homelessness. ”There is a bit of a contradiction between the ethereal nature of aerial work and the grounded struggle of not having a place to live. I had to work hard to acknowledge that contradiction and use it to my advantage.” At the same time, the plight of homeless people in San Francisco is seemingly unbelievable, in a city that boasts so much wealth. “I used the surreal nature of that reality to feed into the surreal physics involved in aerial flight and suspension.”
Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane is part of Flyaway Productions’ trilogy on urban poverty. “The idea of housing security is a basic and fundamental right that everyone should have. Understanding homelessness is essential to understanding our city.”
For more information on Jo Kreiter and Flyaway Productions visit her website