May 12, 2016
Cara, take off your bra,” Sarah Gonsiorowski bawls into a megaphone in the opening scene of RockCitizen. And as the other dancers look on, Cara Sabin wriggles out of her bra and tosses it onto the catwalk above the stage. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” the group chants as a swirl of black-and-white lights takes over the stage and the audience is invited to tune in, drop out, and spend the next hour reliving a tumultuous era filled with sex, drugs, and social protest.
When the Seldoms last hit the stage in 2015, they were digging deep into the time surrounding the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson with the multimedia Power Goes. Now the contemporary dance group is picking up where it left off, right in the midst of the 1960s counterculture that arose in response to the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, and rock ‘n’ roll.
The fractured time line featured in RockCitizen spans from 1956 (the introduction of Elvis Presley’s hips to the United States) to 2012 (when the Supreme Court found part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional), proving that not a lot has changed over the past 60 years. A scene depicting the feminist group Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy From Hell (WITCH) hexing Wall Street in 1969 is all too reminiscent of the recent spell casting against housing insecurity in Logan Square. A black-power speech by Kwame Ture (aka Stokely Carmichael), used as the backdrop of another scene, is similar in tone and message to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. And the show’s visual centerpiece, Bob Faust’s “brascape” of 216 multicolored brassieres stitched together to create a net that entraps dancers at various points throughout the performance, is a reminder that women’s rights still has a long way to go.
Once again, the Seldoms prove themselves to be more than just a dance company; RockCitizen is an immersive theatrical experience with company members reciting stories, shouting into bullhorns, and singing between (and often during) their movements. Save for a few musical interludes and archival recordings, there’s rarely a sound that isn’t created by those onstage, but instead of simply playing or singing the songs straight, the group performs, e.g., a militant rendition of “Yellow Submarine,” an overtly sexual “What’s New Pussycat?,” and an emotionally harrowing sing-along version of “Glad to Be Gay.”
Guest performer Brian Shaw marched around like the group’s own Timothy Leary, getting in the face of audience members and asking, “Are you uncomfortable yet?” And it was clear that some members of the crowd were squirming at least a little bit. Perhaps it was the subject matter, or perhaps it was because the show’s combination of swirling lights, repetitious chanting, and fluid body movements really did make the whole thing feel like an acid trip. The Seldoms don’t shy from spectacle.
But even with all the flash and added theatrical elements, what makes the Seldoms so successful is that they get the most basic thing right: the dancing. It’s with ease that the performers flip over one another and slide over and under the brascape, gyrating their hips like Elvis and falling into orgylike heaps of bodies.
The troupe continues to have a knack for bringing the past into the present and beyond—there’s a mention of Woodstock 2019—while pushing the boundaries of what a dance show can be. I’d love to see what they’d do with the 70s and 80s. v