Rhodessa Jones’s solo dance and theater performance, Life on the Swerve: Observations from that Place Where the World Weeps, was performed Oct. 5 at Garrison Theater at Scripps. The show is the culmination of years of Jones’s work with incarcerated women around the world, specifically in countries including South Africa and Italy. Jones seeks to change the lives of the people behind bars through the arts of theater and dance. Jones, who is based in San Francisco, has been going in and out of prisons and jails since 1989 when a correctional officer called her asking if she would teach an aerobics class. She accepted the offer but had a different plan in mind; she wanted to bring the art of performing with movement to show that anyone can do what they want when they put their mind to it.
Jones’s choreographic style is not flashy or technically difficult; she uses fluid, over-drawn motions and movements while standing virtually in one place. She mirrors her large arm motions with spitting syllables and angry language. Between scenes, Jones breaks character and begins to talk to the audience, asserting that the audience is always a part of the act. This device, accompanied by other methods of stopping the plot, breaks down the fourth wall until it does not exist and the audience becomes drawn into the story even more. Throughout her performance, Jones incorporates fragments of stories from the women that she has met over the years, telling their difficult and true stories of drug addiction, domestic violence, murder, and poverty. By splicing video clips of the real women she has worked with into the live performance Jones makes the characters readily available and relatable, making her message hit even harder.
In a brief interview with Jones after the performance, she came off as extremely approachable and friendly. A grandmother of 62, she can move and dance with the vigor of a 20-something.
“I joined a dancing commune in Upstate New York when I was 16, right after I had my baby,” Jones said. There, she found a completely new world where men were cooking and women were painting. She immediately fell in love with the place’s uniqueness. When asked about what her message is, Jones said, “Art is the most powerful force in the world. It has the ability to change both lives and generations. I am trying to show people that art can make a difference.”