Jo Kreiter is a former gymnast who danced and trained as a choreographer with ZACCHO Dance Theater before founding her own company, Flyaway Productions, in 1996. She chose “flyaway” because of the emotional power and physicality of freedom symbolized by the concept of flight. Her dance troupe performs in the air in both traditional and site-specific venues such as on trapezes, rooftops, fire escapes, suspended steel merry-go-rounds and outdoor walls. It is breathtakingly audacious work, using the physicality of risk as public spectacle. Kreiter says of her company, “It’s a company of women, and in our art we use physical strength as a metaphor for female empowerment.”
In the Spark episode “Art in Public Places,” Kreiter clearly articulates her values and what motivates her to create politically responsive works such as “How to Be a Citizen.” Flyaway Productions’ public performance of this commissioned piece brings to life the place that San Francisco’s Market Street holds the history of protest and progressive ideas. As such, it encapsulates Kreiter’s approach to public art — making a political statement by making use of a specific site to call upon the importance of its own history.
Market street and the buildings on it have borne witness to those who have taken to the street to make their voices heard. Flyaway Productions’ performance honors the courage of the thousands of ordinary people in history who have come forward to strive for justice and social change by assembling and taking to the streets. “How to Be a Citizen” was inspired specifically by the February 2003 peace march in San Francisco against the war in Iraq declared by President Bush. It is not a literal translation of the events of that month, nor is it a protest movement. It is a physical expression of the feelings and emotions of protesters as interpreted by Kreiter.
Performing on a 74-foot-long ramp rising 7-feet high with the words “dissent,” “compassion” and “justice” stenciled on it, the eight dancers’ unified movements symbolize the unity of public protest. “How to Be a Citizen” also featured a number of collaborators who made significant contributions to the work, including Pamela Z, who composed the haunting, chanting musical score, and designer Lalo Cervantes, who constructed the ramp. During the performance, local labor historian Harvey Schwartz recounted a number of historical reference points along the timeline of the history of protest in San Francisco that were integral to the piece.
Jo Kreiter has been a recipient of numerous awards, including a 2001 CA Dancemakers/Irvine Fellowship and a 2000 Gerbode Foundation Award for Choreography. She has been nominated for Isadora Duncan Dance Awards in Choreography (2000) and Performance (1999). She also teaches classes and workshops that highlight her unique approach to dance and physicality. To illuminate the importance of risk in her work, she quotes the British writer Jeanette Winterson “What you risk reveals what you value.”