Activist state

Zaccho Dance Theatre’s “Love, A State of Grace”, an aerial effort to create community

Zaccho Dance Theater acrobat Helen Wicks at Grace Cathedral. Photo: Photo courtesy of Zaccho Dance Theater

It’s a sunny afternoon on Nob Hill, and light streaming through Grace Cathedral’s stained glass windows casts vivid reds and blues across the floor of the nave. The benches have been removed. Although the church is full of witnesses, their attention is not directed to the altar but to the rafters. In an instant, a huge swing passes overhead with startling speed, a woman riding on it, her hair silver like the tail of a comet.

After a vague murmur of chaotic voices, the cathedral’s Aeolian-Skinner organ with its more than 7,000 pipes commands the ear. The woman floats along the pendulum swing, then throws her body through it in a sudden act of surrender.

This show, which premiered on Friday February 11 and will continue on Saturday February 12, then Thursday and Friday February 17 and 18, is called “Love, a State of Grace” and is choreographed by Zaccho Dance Theater . Director Joanna Haigood.

Haigood doesn’t remember when she first entered Grace Cathedral, but she remembers coming back in 2013 for an art installation and bursting into tears, moved not only by the hundreds of satin ribbons hanging, but also by the Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapter and its display of portions of the AIDS quilt.

“I was so moved that this place recognizes the people, the events, the pain of the AIDS epidemic in the context of a Christian space,” she said recently, speaking to The Chronicle from the Zaccho studios in the Bayview neighborhood of San Francisco. “So many people I knew who died were ignored, pushed back, pushed back.”

Pictured: Zaccho Dance Theater acrobats Helen Wicks (front) and Ciarra D’Onofrio (rear) at Grace Cathedral Photo: Photo courtesy of Zaccho Dance Theater

Despite her attraction to the cathedral, she never thought of staging a work there until a former board member suggested she contact Grace, who organizes dozens of related events each month. to the arts and has also featured the dance of choreographers such as Joe Goode and Alonzo King. .

Haigood’s usual way of working is to dig into history and location. One of his best-known early works, 1998’s “Invisible Wings,” brought imaginary scenes of the true history of the Underground Railroad to life at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival after Haigood discovered that the site of Pillow , a former farmhouse in Massachusetts, once provided a safe haven for people fleeing slavery. When Haigood began “Love, A State of Grace,” she was troubled by white supremacist Dylan Roof’s recent shooting of black congregants at a South Carolina church. She thought she would research the history of violence in sacred spaces.

But then came COVID and the murder of George Floyd. The installation of Haigood’s Grace Cathedral has been postponed. And its point of investigation became more specifically spiritual.

“I felt like we were so lost as a group of creatures on this planet,” she recalls, “and lost our way in loving each other. So that piece changed for me then. That started talking about the loss of connection to love in our lives and to the community.

To this end, “Love, A State of Grace” seeks to create opportunities to practice love and community. After immersing himself in readings from writers like acclaimed writer James Baldwin, late black feminist writer Bell Hooks, and Buddhist activist Thich Nhat Hahn, Haigood realized that the subject of love “is like , you know, six doctoral theses”. So she contacted theologians Yohana Junker and Cláudio Carvalhaes, and together they created a guided meditation booklet that guides visitors through a series of reflections at six stations in the cathedral.

Pictured: Zaccho Dance Theater acrobat Ciarra D’Onofrio at Grace Cathedral Photo: Photo courtesy of Zaccho Dance Theater

Although the entrance to “Love, A State of Grace” is timed on the half hour, visitors are invited to linger, explore and watch the cycle repeat itself. And there’s a lot more to notice on a second viewing.

Some viewers, like Burlingame’s Alicia and Patrick Mooreheard on Friday, came out in technical awe of the performer’s building and rig.

“I’m an entrepreneur, so maybe I over-analyze things,” Moorehead said. “I noticed the decelerator on the cable holding the dancer, anticipating a big jump.”

His wife was less obsessed with nuts and bolts. “It was ethereal,” she said.

Others present found themselves pondering the images they had just seen.

Pierre Marc, visiting from Nice, France, noticed that the three performance stations progressed from the horizontal movement of Suzanne Gallo on the swing, to the vertical movement of a Ciarra D’Onofrio climbing a 90-foot ladder hung above the baptismal font, and finally to the three-dimensional spiral movement of Veronica Blair swirling around an hourglass-shaped sculpture by Wayne Campbell in the cathedral’s north transept. Meanwhile, Walter Kitundu’s score, played live on the organ by Christopher Keady, shifts from chaos and discord to the sounds of nature to end in a bold, enveloping chord.

“Music keeps us in time, but when the woman on the swing jumps into space, there’s no time,” Marc said.

His partner Marie-Claire Taché accepted. “I was transported,” she says.

“Love, a state of grace”: Zaccho Dance Theater. Works in 30 minute loops. 4-7pm Saturday February 12; 1-4 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17; 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, February 18. $25. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St., SF