When I was at Duke, I never would have anticipated dedicating my life to being an artist," says Jo Kreiter '86. "Actually, I was shocked. It wasn't the pathway I thought I would take."
After graduation, the political science major moved to San Francisco, knowing that it was a city with a large activist tradition. There she struggled to find a balance between her two passions: dancing and social justice.
For several years, she danced with ZACCHO Dance Theatre, her training ground as a choreographer. In 1996, after creating a popular "evolutionary" dance piece, Kreiter founded her own dance company, Flyaway Productions. "That one piece gave me a sense of the possibility to develop and sustain a company," she says. "It's a company of women, and in our art we use physical strength as a metaphor for female empowerment."
Flyaway performs in a variety of venues. "We dance off the ground," says Kreiter. "We fly, swing, and balance in unlikely places," such as rooftops, industrial cranes, and suspended steel beams.
"It's been a difficult undertaking. To run an organization devoted to the arts, you need a very strong business sense, entrepreneurial skills, leadership, and good art." The organization, consisting of about ten artists and a few administrative assistants, is still in the building process. It became a nonprofit this year, receiving funding from the local and state governments, private foundations, individual donations, and commissions.
This year, Flyaway began the Ten Women Campaign, where ten high-profile national and international women leaders will lend their visibility to the organization for a year, with an attempt to gain individual donors. The campaign has been successful in finding women who are willing to be involved, such as California Representative Barbara Lee, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, Sophie Maxwell of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Patty Chang of the Women's Foundation.
"This is our way of linking arts and civic life. There is too much separation between art and the rest of the world. We'd like to make more connections between feminist intentions in the arts and in the world."
Kreiter's involvement in gymnastics, dance, and political activism at Duke seems to have paved the way to her career. She says she came to Duke because of its combination of academics and good gymnastics. She was on the team for her first two years before heading off to London for a year abroad. At that point, she stopped competing for the first time since she was seven years old.
During her senior year, she was involved in the anti-apartheid movement on campus. Working with students, faculty, and community members, she fought to persuade Duke to divest its holdings from companies in South Africa.
She says, "We built shantytowns on campus, got arrested, and were brought to trial--but were never charged on the grounds that if people could camp out for basketball tickets, they should be able to camp out for political reasons as well." Two days before Kreiter's graduation, the board of trustees announced that they would divest.
"It was interesting," says Kreiter, "because my involvement in
politics and my world views put me in the minority at Duke. But I found some really amazing professors
like [history's] Peter Wood and [religion's] Thomas McCullough, who taught me some of the most important things I learned at Duke: to think critically and to ask questions."
Kreiter is setting goals to handle the growth of her organization. "We'd like to stabilize the company by creating a financial base that matches what we've achieved artistically."
Future productions include Maybe Grief is a Good Bird Flying Low, a performance scheduled for the end of May that "investigates a definition of strength that includes the power to transform grief into something useful."