Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Singing Praises: Centennial Dances for The Women's Building

Flyaway Productions in association with The Women's Building
18th & Valencia, San Francisco, CA
September 10, 2010

photo by Austin Forbord
Dance performance is full of transformative elements.  A flowing, chiffon dress can turn a woman into a ghost; an inventive set can place the scene in a forest; an amazing talent can change steps into artistry; and a choreographic genius can bring music to life.  Costuming, set design, music, cast, vision - these are likely some of the first things that come to mind when pondering the factors that go into performance.  Still, other components are equally essential in production.  Site-specific dance reminds us that location also has the power and ability to influence and transform dance.  Flyaway Productions' new work, "Singing Praises: Centennial Dances for The Women's Building" is a tangible example of this deep relationship between a structure and choreography.  Artistic Director Jo Kreiter knows how to marry the narrative with aerial dance.  She has succeeded once again, with a piece that focuses attention on what a building is, what it means, what it has done and can do for a neighborhood.

"Singing Praises" most prominent theme was the pull between 'staying' and 'going' - such a perfect metaphor for The Women's Building.  This space has sought to be and still is a nurturing, welcoming and helpful environment for women and girls in the community, instilling determination, pride and self-worth.  Though, to truly make a difference, its mission could not and cannot be insular.  Strength and self-confidence need to be palpable both inside and outside the doors.  The result is an architectural statement of protection and enveloping, support and encouragement, fortification and investment.  Places like this have a story and it affects the choreography that happens on them and in them.  This dynamic site evolved this dance from movement into community history and participation.      

The dual message of embracing and releasing was beautifully translated into aerial performance by Kreiter and the company dancers.  In several segments of the piece, bent knees were followed by full extensions; an encircling then an uncovering.  Use of the fire escape ladders also indicated this dualism combining groundedness with an expedition to something new, somewhere new.  Here, we saw a repeated motif where one foot was planted to the building and the other extended in arabesque out and away.  In one of the many duets, one dancer was attached at the window frame close to the structure, while the other floated out free in space.  These two were performing the same steps, in unison, yet the choreography was being experienced in two different realities (in the Center and in the community).  Last, the circular patterns in "Singing Praises" spoke volumes: the spinning in attitude and the walking in circles (toward the building, then away) again highlighted the cyclical nature of this space in the lives of women.     

Kreiter's work also brings up the issues of fragility and precariousness.  "Singing Praises" took place right in the middle of the Mission District on 18th, and none of the streets had been sealed off to traffic.  Many of the motorists going by were completed distracted, focused on the dancing instead of on the road.  It made me feel anxious and ill at ease - fully expecting to hear the screech of brakes at any moment (thankfully, the night I was there was accident-free).  In addition to the traffic-issues, these nervous emotions were heightened because dancers were suspended from harnesses, flying through the air and balancing on the edge of the roof.  But, however uncomfortable, I think these sensations are necessary.  It's good to be reminded every once in a while that existence is tenuous.  It's a reality check, and for some (me included), increases our awareness to the gifts in life.   

No comments: