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At Grace Cathedral, an aerial dance premiere to take us from violence to love

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By Aimee Ts’ao

Special for examiner

When Zaccho Dance Theater finally performs “Love, a state of grace,” Feb. 11-18, it’s only fitting that it perform in San Francisco’s majestic Grace Cathedral. The twists and turns involved in making this piece during the pandemic are matched only by the two labyrinths inside and outside the iconic church.

The wait was worth it. Audiences should prepare to be amazed by five acrobats scaling the 90-foot ladder rising to the nave or swinging on the 70-foot pendulum arcing above the stone floor, highlighted by the brilliant stained glass windows.

Choreographer Joanna Haigood, the company’s artistic director, was working on her latest creation when the shelter-in-place mandate hit. She had already conceived the piece as an exploration of recent violence targeting sacred spaces – temples, mosques, churches.

Haigood asked, “How can one religion justify violence against another? In most religions and practices, love is a fundamental principle. How is this reinterpreted to justify this kind of behavior? The longtime Bay Area choreographer began researching attacks on sacred spaces and having conversations with a wide range of religious leaders.

“Then Covid came along and I was thrown in about 50 different directions,” she said. “While trying to figure out how to save the ship here in Zaccho, it became clear that this project had to be put on hold.” Even the place, which bears its name well, could not evoke any divine intervention.

Haigood was not alone. Everyone in the performing arts has wondered how to create and perform works within the limitations imposed by the pandemic. Haigood found herself reflecting on one of her previous pieces, “Between Me and the Other World,” based on WEB DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk.”

“The play explores the dilemma that black people find themselves in, especially in this country, where they face this duality of identity – who you really are and how you are perceived by everyone,” he said. she stated.

DuBois called it double consciousness and understood that the internal split had serious consequences for society, leading to oppression, inequality and violence. Haigood said, “The book is also about our incredible strength and perseverance. We have this extraordinary ability to rise above our crises, to uplift ourselves and each other to a place where we are no longer spiritually deprived and to live in our genius on all levels.

The murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed have also marked his ongoing work. “We had this huge wave of social uprisings that were remarkable,” she said. “The room started to change for me. I started to think…we really need to get back to love and actively practice, discuss, share, embrace the idea. Love in the form of forgiveness, which is different for everyone. It doesn’t change the result, but it allows people to move forward.

“Love, a State of Grace” includes three activities as well as themes: abandonment, effort and appeasement. The swing is lifted by a dancer who surrenders to gravity, letting go in a giant downward motion, falling into another state of being. “You feel it even if you don’t,” Haigood promised. “Just by looking at it, you live it.”

And climbing a 90-foot ladder couldn’t be more emblematic of the effort. “Love is actually a job. It has to be nurtured and nurtured,” the choreographer said. “That effort gives perspective, the higher you go, the more you earn.”

The third theme, appeasement, is symbolized by the huge mandala created on the floor of Grace Cathedral as well as a number of rituals in which the public can participate.

The action of the performance takes place in different locations that overlap in time, with the dancer rotating using different props and spaces. Each hour-long cycle repeats twice during the three-hour show, allowing the audience to freely see what interests them from different points of view.

Equally important is how the music and sound, composed by Walter Kitundu, echoes and amplifies the performance. Kitundu, a longtime resident of San Francisco, currently lives in Chicago, which has brought with it the added challenge of collaborating via the internet.

“I think one of the things that really struck me about the cathedral is that it has a sense of memory,” he said. “If you say something in the cathedral or make a sound, the building doesn’t really let that sound go immediately; it clings to it, it colors it, it shapes it. This led me to believe that the building has a repository of all the sounds that have occurred there.

Kitundu restructured the scoreline due to the limited time he had in the cathedral before the opening. Most of the music is now pre-recorded, as he has given up building his own acoustic instruments for live use. Still, he is delighted that Christopher Keady, an accomplished organist, will play part of the score in person.

“He will be able to bring the voice of the cathedral, which is this wonderful organ, into the music to enhance some of the most emotional moments,” Kitundu said.

For some of us, art is a religion. With “Love, A State of Grace,” we have the opportunity to participate in art as a religion, either figuratively or literally, perhaps even a little of both.

IF YOU ARE GOING TO:

World Premiere of “Love, A State of Grace” at Zaccho Dance Theater

Or: Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., SF

When: Friday, February 11, 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, February 12, 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday, February 17, 1 to 4 p.m., Friday, February 18, 7 to 10 p.m. three hours.

Tickets: $25. Masks and proof of vaccination required.

Contact: zacchograce.brownpapertickets.com