Invisible Wings is an epic devised, site specific, multidisciplinary performance piece inspired by the legendary Underground Railroad. Commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1998, Invisible Wings was performed on property currently owned by the Festival that once served as a station or sanctuary for runaways fleeing to Canada during the mid-nineteenth century. The show has been performed at Jacob’s Pillow twice, as well as at the historic Fort Point, a pre-Civil War fort located under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. An abridged version has been performed in Saint Remy, France.
At Jacob’s Pillow, Invisible Wings is staged in a wooded area that audience members walk through, at a clearing just outside the woods, and finally inside and atop a historic barn. Story telling, aerial dance, choreographies inspired by popular dances of the period, and a Heritage choir performing traditional chants and songs sung by African Americans during the pre-Emancipation era are all interwoven to tell the story of a young African American woman who is fleeing her past experience of enslavement, determined to be free.
Developed by Joanna Haigood during three years of meticulous research, the project brought together numerous artists, historians, and organizations in exploring and interpreting this history. While Invisible Wings depicts harrowing aspects of the life endured by enslaved men and women, it offers a hopeful, uplifting ending. The program distributed at the beginning of the performance includes a wealth of background information about the history of American slavery and includes excerpted testimonies of many survivors of this traumatic ordeal. Also included is the following statement by Joanna Haigood:
“Slavery has delivered a deep wound at the heart of our society. It is my hope that this project will encourage us to look at our history and to draw lines to the current social and political trends as they relate to race, class and international relations. Recognizing that the evil of slavery is neither unique to this country nor ended in the world today, it is important to begin dialogue and to move towards strategies for healing.”
“The spirit of the Underground Railroad was driven by compassion, respect and cooperation. With the performance of Invisible Wings we celebrate its success with the songs, dances and stories of the time. We dedicate this work to all of our ancestors.”
Choreography and Direction: Joanna Haigood
Storyteller: Diane Ferlatte
Music: Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir
Dramaturg: Kim Euell
Scenic Design: Alexander Nichols
Rigging Design: Wayne Campbell
Lighting Design: Jack Carpenter
Costumes: Gail Fresia
Jules Beckman, Brenton Chang, Claire Dixon, Diane Ferlatte, Arturo Fernandez, Joanna Haigood, Robert Henry Johnson, Jo Kreiter, Shakiri, Sheila Lopez, Ramon Ramos Alayo, Katherine Warner, John Jenkle, and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir (Rhonda Benin, Elouise Burrell, Melonie DeMore, Emma Jean Foster-Fiege)
2007 Jacob’s Pillow Performers
Paul Benney, Robert Ernst, Diane Ferlatte, Joanna Haigood, Robert Henry Johnson, Sheila Lopez, Ramon Ramos Alayo, Ralph Rotondo, Shakiri, Raissa Simpson, Amara Tabor-Smith, Ashley Taylor, Shereel Washington, and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir (Rhonda Benin, Elouise Burrell, Melonie DeMore, Valeria Troutt)
Fort Point National Monument, San Francisco, CA
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, MA
Subsequent Tour Dates & Locations
1999: Saint Remy, France (abridged)
2007: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, MA
Funders / Commissioners
Commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
Invisible Wings was made possible with generous support from the Rockefeller MAP Fund, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Zellerbach Family Foundation
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