Flyaway Productions Tackles Women’s Issues

‘The Wait Room’ combines oral histories, music, and dance on an important topic: women with incarcerated loved ones.


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Dancers perform with interesting partners in 'The Wait Room.'

Photo courtesy of Flyaway Productions

As a youngster, Jo Kreiter, founder and artistic director of Flyaway Productions, was an avid gymnast, but when she encountered dance, she was hooked even as she realized that traditional women’s training neglected upper body strength.

So she developed choreography that challenged women dancers differently — suspensions, sliding, bouncing, spinning, diving, flying. The company performed in nontraditional venues: the top of an industrial crane, a huge billboard, rooftops, external walls of multistoried buildings, and fire escapes.

Reiter always creates from a very strong woman’s perspective. The work may challenge our sense of gravity, but, of equal importance, it throws spotlights on social issues that continue plaguing, particularly, the women of our society: beauty ideals, gender and race, citizenship definitions, homelessness, sweatshop work conditions. In her last piece, Tender, one of the performers was transgendered. She melds political activism — often in conjunction with the impacted populations — into effective dance theater. It’s a rare combination.

Remarkably, Kreiter’s work has attracted many women with traditional training who also want to learn this additional way of dancing. As one of them recently said to me, “It just looks so interesting and challenging.” One thing these performers can’t have is fear of heights. Each of the six current members (Bianca Cabrera, Laura Elaine Ellis, Sonsherée Giles, MaryStarr Hope, Yayoi Kambara, and Megan Lowe) also have career with more traditional companies.

Kreiter’s installations — fixed in one place and time — have made touring difficult. This is about to change. Her newest piece, The Wait Room, the first of a trilogy, under sponsorship from the Rauschenberg Foundation’s Artist as Activist fellowship prorgram, will include a movable set (by longtime collaborator Sean Riley) allowing the piece to travel.

The Wait Room examines the challenges of women with imprisoned partners — Kreiter having been one of them herself — and was created with input from Oakland’s Essie Justice Group, an advocacy organization of women with incarcerated loved ones. “One in four women and nearly one in two black women in the U.S. has at one point had a family member in prison,” Kreiter has said.

Composer/performer Pamela Z translated some of the oral histories from women who have gone through this painful process into a musical score. In September The Wait Room will perform in Osslning, N.Y., outside of Sing Sing prison. But before traveling east, Flyaway Productions will be part of the East Bay Center For the Performing Arts 50th anniversary celebration. “It will happen inside or on an empty space across the street,” Kreiter says.

The Wait Room, Flyaway Productions, May 17 and 18, 8 p.m., East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, 339 11th St., Richmond, free.

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