“Multiple Mary” and “Invisible Jane”: Aerial Dance Addresses San Francisco's Contradictions

Every day the streets of San Francisco reek of the contradictory filth of the burgeoning technopolis of ironically hoodied, moustachioed, nouveau riche youths and the destitute itinerants who crumple their bodies to sleep in the underground corridors of Muni stations. To address these contradictions, Choreographer Jo Kreiter — whose Isadora Duncan Award-winning 2012 piece Niagara Falling addressed economic collapse and urban decay in the cities of Niagara Falls and San Francisco — creates the second in a trilogy of works with her aerial dance company Flyaway Productions on American poverty in Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane, on view September 12-20 on a wall donated by UC Hastings College of Law.

“When I was making Niagara Falling on the side of the Renoir Hotel, I had the opportunity to look at Market Street from the roof,” she explains. “People don’t know they’re being watched, and I could see old ladies scurry in the corners, clearly homeless ladies carrying lots of bags, and I became really curious about what their stories were.”

Kreiter's curiosity and her desire to pursue the theme of poverty and resistance from a feminist slant coincided with a conversation with journalist Rose Aguilar, who was then researching her article “Old, Female and Homeless.” 

[jump] Victims of assault, circumstance, addiction, and mental illness, a significantly greater number of women have found themselves on the streets in the past two decades. “I think the safety net has broken down,” notes Kreiter. “The collapse of mental health care in our country is part of that. People have fewer resources when it comes to caring for the elders in their families and I think that housing in San Francisco is a hugely problematic contributor to homelessness. Women used to be able to be cared for by their families and that has fallen apart.”

Kreiter and Aguilar interviewed six women in preparation for the piece, and their voices form the basis of the score composed by Pamela Z. The litany of their woes is tragically mundane: “One is a nurse, and she became homeless because of some difficulty with her son. One had a debt through a series of medical surgeries and lost her home. Two of them had drug or alcohol issues. One lost her home of 50 years because it was foreclosed on.” Kreiter's title for the dance reflects her conviction that “we were talking about women who could be any of us. I chose plain names, names from my generation.” Yet, in keeping with both the mesmerizing and whimsical nature of aerial dance and the raw context of rigging off the side of a 80-foot building that abuts the Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhoods, she continues, “During the creation, somebody mailed me a photo of the London Olympics, of all these Mary Poppins with all these umbrellas floating down from the ceiling in some performance space, and I really loved the image. I’ve worked in the past with the umbrella as an image for shelter, and I wanted to return to it, develop it technically and physically. But also 'multiple' conjures images of mental illness, which is a huge problem with people affected by homelessness.”

In addition to the twelve performances of Multiple Mary, Flyaway Productions will host a series of “curbside chats” with Aguilar, the women who assisted the creation of the piece, and members of the community.

Flyaway Productions presents Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane Sept. 12-13, 8 and 9 p.m., Sept. 17-18, noon and 8 p.m. and Sept. 19-20, 8 and 9 p.m. at UC Hastings College of Law (333 Golden Gate, near the YMCA, San Francisco). Admission is free.

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