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Flying Dance Troupe Soars Over Tenderloin

Adam L. Brinklow | September 17, 2014 | Story Galleries and Performance

It was a hot—at least for the city—day in the Tenderloin as five dancers from Flyaway Productions plunged off the UC Hastings parking garage on Golden Gate Avenue at noon, gliding, tumbling, and pirouetting in midair. It was the first mid-day performance of "Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane," Flyaway's new aerial dance piece that suspends their crew high above the city streets for 30 minutes of death-defying footwork.

The dancer are tethered to the roof as they perform across the side of the building, sometimes walking Spider-Man style straight up and sometimes shimmying along ropes and suspended props. When we first looked into Flyaway's vertical rig-and-jig routine as part of the Fall Arts package in our September issue, the midair ballet sounded cool but we didn't quite grasp what that had to do with homeless women, the way the artists said it did. We were assured that once we saw the final product it would make more sense.

In fairness, it does: testimonials from homeless and formerly homeless San Francisco women (including one Barbara Coleman, who now lives across the street and can see the dancers from her window) are mixed into the original score, and certain moments, like the sight of women literally left dangling as a woman's voice reflects on her eviction, strike a chord. We'd be lying if we didn't admit that some of this stuff went over our heads, but it's still a spectacle.

Spectators seemed amazed, but opinions varied on how effective it was as social commentary. Anne Marx, who works in the state building a few blocks down, said that, "Some parts were more effective than others. It was best when they just tried to sweep us up the whole thing." Longtime Flyaway fan Rick (no last name given) says, "Sure they were on-message," and praised artistic director Jo Kreiter for picking that particular block, between Hyde and Larkin, (though he admits it made him think twice about hitting up a night performance). Vance Lear, an arts photographer who dropped in to prep for shots for later, seemed impressed with the commentary. "I was homeless here for eight years myself, so I know what it's like. They warehouse you and give you just enough healthcare not to drop dead in public."

The dancers vary from relative newbies in their first year of aerial performance to seasoned hands (or feet, as it were). Asked what it was like taking a dive for their art, everyone had their own take. "I love heights, roller coasters, anything that makes me go ooh," says Laura Ellis, while her dancing partner Esther Wrobel admitted that "You're always aware of your own morality," when you're on the wire. "The first time I climbed over that ledge I was terrified," says Alayna Stroud, a veteran of Cirque Du Soleil. "But it's surprising how normal it all becomes,"

"Multiple Mary and Flyaway Jane" is free to the public, with one more noon matinee tomorrow and night shows (8 PM and 9 PM) through Saturday.

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