Movement Politics: On The Seldoms’ RockCitizen

The Seldoms BraScape

the seldoms rock citizenship, from the sixties to now.

Below are program notes for The Seldoms, RockCitizen, which premieres at the Storefront Theater in downtown Chicago from 5/5-15/2016. Tickets and more information here.

When last we left The Seldoms, in 2015’s Power Goes, they were inquiring into power: what it is, how it works, where it goes. Artistic director Carrie Hanson and her ensemble, along with their collaborators, leaned into the many legacies of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s tumultuous presidential term (1963-1968). Like Power Goes, which looked to a sixties presidency for source material, RockCitizen stays in the same time period as its starting point, but this new work provocatively widens the lens from the presidency and politics to issues of citizenship and social activism more broadly.

As radical feminist Ellen Willis once claimed, “The history of the sixties strongly suggests that the impulse to buy a new car and tool down the freeway with the radio blasting rock and roll is not unconnected to the impulse to fuck outside marriage, get high, stand up to men or white people or bosses, join dissident movements.” RockCitizen wants to know how these different levels of agitation are “not unconnected.” How have everyday people rocked citizenship, from the sixties to now? How have they pushed at it, risen up for it, questioned it, desired it, feared it, produced it, consumed it, lost it, found it, and strived to grasp or unleash it?

The Seldoms RockCitizen Photo

The Seldoms, RockCitizen.

To chase these questions, The Seldoms move through a dense tapestry of sixties references. Yet RockCitizen, like Power Goes, is no period piece. The work throttles toward our contemporary moment, resonating with today’s struggles for civic democracy in the United States. Power remains an important topic, but The Seldoms take on a more diverse range of people, settings, and states of being. Pop stars and songs, political figures familiar and obscure, outlaws and activists of all stripes and the memories of the dancers themselves appear. Humor and absurdity, pleasure and hedonism, ecstatic ritual and festivity, the personal along with the political enter the picture.

The multimedia environment of RockCitizen includes spoken word, video projection, sound compositions, and lighting design, but dance is at its heart. Physical movement becomes the central means of investigating how desires and impulses get organized, how they become sensibilities, personalities, stances, ideologies, collectivities, social movements. The Seldoms hex and zap, howl and hiss. They swivel hips and vogue. They flex muscles and raise fists. In RockCitizen, fingered peace signs align across bodies, go to war with each other, turn into V-flashes of victory, give a thumbs up, transform into crowns and pink triangles and anarchist meeting signals, become dove wings and butterflies, fire off bullets, flip the bird. All the while, the ensemble dances, speaks, sings, chants, marches, levitates, mic checks, and more below Bob Faust’s striking Brascape, which consists of 216 multicolored brassieres stitched together on a moveable rigging.

At times, The Seldoms even get caught up in the Brascape itself, just as RockCitizen offers immersion in the social movements of the sixties. And yet the piece steps back from history too. It matches sensorial immediacy with skeptical scrutiny. Each gesture, move, and motion might take you back, but also, under pressure of performance, The Seldoms query, intensely, whether these efforts to rock citizenship still have any thrust to them.

Michael J. Kramer
Dramaturg/Historian-in-residence, The Seldoms
Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies, Northwestern University

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