Mira Treatman has been afraid of heights since she was a child.
So naturally, her upcoming SoLow Fest performance will take place on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge — the 57th-largest suspension bridge in the world, according to the Delaware River Port Authority.
This is the second year Treatman is participating in SoLow, a “do-it-yourself festival dedicated to new, experimental work focusing on solo performance.”
But it presented the opportunity to tackle her fears and present it in the one way she knew how: dance.
She will perform the first iteration of her dance-theater piece, Bridge to Somewhere, to a sold-out crowd on June 15 and again on June 21, both at 6 p.m., starting at Fifth and Race streets.
“It came about because I have a pretty strong fear of heights, and I’ve been trying to get over that through exposure,” said Treatman, who grew up going to Hebrew school at Society Hill Synagogue, “and so I just started crossing the bridge for exercise and for fun and to just work with my fear because I’m trying to very earnestly and very simply live with less fear. It kind of just morphed into a performance from that simple exercise.”
The performance will take place before a small group of people, and Treatman will incorporate elements of dance and theater as well as a walking tour as the audience stands in the space bridging Camden and Philadelphia.
The bridge motif itself is significant on a metaphorical level, she said.
“Being around a space that’s between two cities, I can imagine people walking away from this as thinking about other metaphorical bridges,” she said, comparing it to the feeling one gets when standing alone in a desert. (Those who have been to the Negev would recognize that feeling.)
The bridge was a way of conquering her fears, though it wasn’t easy at first.
“I just was really attuned to the changes in my body and how I felt physically,” she recalled. “Since I have a background in dance, that’s kind of my natural inclination to just be always aware of how the body reacts to different stimuli. So my muscles tensed, my heart rate increased, all of the sympathetic nervous reactions, sweaty palms, and I just focused on the horizon line because I found that to be very soothing. And then by the time I walked back, I was pretty calm, actually.”
The Ben Franklin also serves as a literal bridge to her Jewish family history.
A Philadelphia native, her family came to the city in the early 20th century and operated stores on both sides of the river. One had a hardware store in Camden, while others were in the socks and hosiery business on the other side in Old City.
“That’s just kind of coincidental, but it’s something I think about — coming from people who kind of started from the bottom up in America,” she said, “escaping various levels of oppression or violence in certain cases.”
Bridge to Somewhere is her first solo piece not taking place in a studio, she noted.
“I’ve learned that as a solo creator and performer, working completely independently, that in my process to raise the stakes I can’t be in a studio alone, I have to be out in the world,” she said. “Independent work does not happen in a vacuum or the controlled space of a studio.”
She studied dance at the Rock School and later got her Bachelor of Arts in directing at Beloit College. She has performed works in Philadelphia and New York City, where she first started a residency for the project earlier this year. She hopes to be able to bring Bridge to Somewhere to other cities — maybe even other countries.
The open-endedness of the title was intentional for that purpose.
“There’s a sense of urgency like you’re going to a place that could be anywhere, but where you’re going matters,” she said.
She is looking forward to sharing the experience with an audience and building a relationship to the city with them.
“It’s going to be a very small group of people [that] will gather and we’re going to engage with the site together,” she said. “I’m building in rests, little breaks, and — I don’t want to give too much away — but I’m drawing attention to the architecture and the natural landscape.
“My goals are to give people a theater experience they haven’t necessarily had before, something new.”
Tickets for Bridge to Somewhere can be purchased at miratreatman.com/tickets.
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