By Lee DeGraw September 15, 2016 Published on BayArea.com
Flyaway Productions, an apparatus-based dance company, has been tackling social justice issues through dance for the last 20 years. Their latest piece “Grace and Delia are Gone,” focuses on the brutal topic of violence against women through a hauntingly beautiful performance that has dancers gracefully flinging themselves off of fire escapes, swaying energetically in the air suspended by cables, and bounding across a narrow stage.
The performance takes place in segments, forcing the audience to move throughout the various rooms at the Fort Mason Center, even leading us outside for a portion. Throughout the hour-long piece, never once do these immensely talented, acrobatic Amazons appear anything less than strong, skilled women. And yet, they so convincingly embodied the helplessness and distress of a victim of violence.
The first scene takes place in a small room with a vanity table and chair suspended above the audience, positioned at such a tilt that it appears impossible to use as a stable prop. Silly me. The dancer, strapped into a harness that hooks onto the rafters, works this piece of furniture. From theatrically jerking her body over it to sliding underneath it and twirling atop it, she moves with a level of agility only a highly trained performer with zero percent body fat could achieve. Her elegant but rough movements over the vanity finishes with her gazing disoriented at her (bruised) reflection in the mirror, leaving me feeling depressed and uncomfortable at the thought of a woman trying to see her beauty beneath her harmed body.
The lights dim and we shuffle into the next space that contains a long narrow stage and open window. As the music begins to play, the redheaded dancer starts moving on stage, shifting her weight from foot to foot. As the music gains speed, so does the performer, leaping across the platform and literally bouncing off the wall behind her. Just when it seems impossible to tear my eyes from her, I spot a shadow in the periphery. Through the open factory window appears a woman dressed in rags and looking a tad, well, deranged. The audience slowly catches on to the existence of this second figure and we seesaw our heads back and forth between the principal dancer spinning on stage and the window woman who softly mimics her movements.
The third segment (and my personal favorite) brings us outside the venue where we stand beside the dock and watch two dancers flutter along the wall of a neighboring building while suspended high above the ground. The performers move in sync with each other, wrapping their limbs around the others’ in an ethereal dance that is accompanied by a beautiful, albeit morbid, folk song about murder. The wind begins to kick up just as the aerial duo conclude their ghostly waltz and we are herded back inside and into the final setting.
The last segment is by far the lengthiest and most impassioned. Affixed to the right wall is a small fire escape with a woman perched on top of it. Dangling above the center and left stage are various types of kitchen pots and a rolling pin, all evenly spaced. As the music queues up, several performers appear and stand beneath the hanging cookware. The dance begins rather calmly, but quickly escalates in its intensity. The female dancers are soon in the air once again, swinging nimbly from the kitchen tools and leaping off the fire escape. The performers switch back and forth between embracing the cookware and thrusting it from them in disgust. I also felt mixed emotions toward their actions — I wondered how something as simple as a rolling pin could symbolize female oppression, forced gender roles, domestic servitude, and exploitation while also just being a way to flatten dough.
After the final performer took her last leap and the audience applauded enthusiastically, I took a moment in my seat to collect my thoughts. I realized that the purpose of having the audience physically move from space to space was meant to make us feel unsettled and uncomfortable. The aerial choreography gave me anxiety and even a little bit of motion sickness as I spun my head around to watch it all. The moves looked risky and sometimes painful for the women performing. Basically, the piece fully delivered on everything it promised. I would be concerned if someone watched it and didn’t feel all of the things violence breeds — pain, sickness, danger, and fear. Violence against women is happening. It’s not a thing of the past nor is it absent in our present, but through awareness and action, there’s at least the possibility that it will have no place in our future.