CHICAGO — On its surface, The Seldoms’ latest RockCitizen (premiering Thursday, May 5 at the Storefront Theater) is an exploration and celebration of rock music and the counterculture that grew alongside or out of it. Indeed, rock ‘n’ roll informs and infuses the text, gestures, sound score, and onstage singing that play equal parts to dance in this work as choreographer and Seldoms’ Artistic Director Carrie Hanson has moved increasingly toward interdisciplinary dance theater works.
Like the music, though, Hanson doesn’t make fluff dances. So while the peace and love of the 1960s and the upbeat pulses of musicians like Tom Jones, Elvis Presley and the Beatles are omnipresent in this work, RockCitizen dives into the rebellion and deep discontent bubbling beneath the surface of so many rock tunes, and the social movements that rose up around the songs of the 1960s.
Hanson is not one to leave stones unturned, mining images – some literal, some not – from the LGBT, women’s and African American civil rights movements and the Vietnam War to accompany an abundance of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. As with last year’s Power Goes, a companion piece to RockCitizen steeped in the history of LBJ and the physicality of power, RockCitizen is unabashedly political. And, as with Power Goes, RockCitizen draws parallels to current social issues that remind us, perhaps embarrassingly, of history’s propensity for repeating itself. The addition of veteran actor Brian Shaw further elucidates connections between past and present. Shaw’s role is both in and apart from the work; at times he gets right in the mix with the gaggle of Gen Y and Millennial aged Seldoms; more often he observes or directs them through poignant series of spoken passages projected through a megaphone.
The dance, text, and music are only part of the vision of RockCitizen, which employs the same creative team as Power Goes. Audience members will likely never have seen the Storefront Theater quite this dressed up; most noticeable is Bob Faust’s “brascape,” a web of brightly colored boulder holders strung from the ceiling at various points that envelopes, hovers over, and at times ties up the dancers; unlike Faust’s previous designs the brascape is an integral part of the choreography.
RockCitizen will rock audiences just like the music that inspired it: you will smile, laugh, smirk, and at times feel intensely uncomfortable. And that is really the point. Rock music isn’t always pretty, or comfortable. Designed to provoke, to upset, or to rouse people toward reactivity, rock music mattered. It continues to matter. In her way, Carrie Hanson is making sure dance matters, too.
The Seldoms presents the world premiere of ‘RockCitizen’ May 5-15 at the Storefront Theater, 66 East Randolph St. Tickets are $12-15 available at the Storefront Theater Box Office on show days or online at theseldoms.org/rockcitizen.
Header photo credit: Johnny Riese