Punk Yankees program notes

Late October brings us Lucky Plush Productions and Julia Rhoads’s new work, Punk Yankees. Now a decade old, Lucky Plush has already taken an important seat in the 21st century re-shaping and flowering of the Chicago dance scene. Rich kinetic/visual environments, dance films, site specific installations, and numerous evening-length performance works produced by Lucky Plush have been presented in locations including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Galaxie, Millennium Park, and The Dance Center.

Rhoads and her collaborators are never far from the cutting edge of dance, technology and performance in the ongoing projects that have landed the company, in its relatively short life, presentations in major venues here in Chicago and beyond. Last year Rhoads received national prestige in the form of an invited creative research residency at the Maggie Allessee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University.

In bringing Julia’s newest work, Punk Yankees, to The Dance Center, we join her and her dancers in inviting our audiences to think about the phenomenon of “sampling.” Many of us move through our days without thinking about the cultural transitions around us, or how culture is constructed, laid bare, resisted and appropriated. In the arts we take some amount of this for granted, for we all know that we stand (or dance) on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, introduced innovation, questioned the status quo (or skillfully sustained it), brought new manifestos and concerns into the larger scheme of things, and who perhaps begin working in the margins and eventually become a tradition themselves. But for centuries, the relationship between ideas already in place – be they dances or songs or stories or visual representations – and the ideas freshly distributed or presented is often fragile, referential and/or in some way grounded in acts of appropriation. A whole industry has sprung up in the legal field around “intellectual property” and copyright infringement. Music sampling, which gained increasing practice in the 1970s but in fact reaches back centuries (the technology of recording did change the opportunities considerably), is a common practice as it the notion of one artist “covering” another artist’s song. Yet, are there “covers” of dances? We know Beyonce got a heap of criticism for borrowing some Fosse moves in a recent music video. Guess you can’t “cover” dances just yet!

All of these questions and more prompted Julia Rhoads to begin investigating the possibilities, meanings and questions around sampling in dance. In academic terms, she “problematized” the issue. But instead of writing a paper that other scholars would read (she is an accomplished educator as well as a highly trained dancer and choreographer), she took her questions into the studio and, through creative research and collaboration, made Punk Yankees. She also documented her research in a blog that you can find on her stealthisdance.com website. In developing this work, Rhoads is in the vanguard of new millennium dance discourse, asking questions of authenticity and ownership, questions of memory and originality, questions of reference and credit and when is it just okay to dance and not worry about who thought up that move?

The real delights in Punk Yankees will come your way through the choreographic “grazing” that Rhoads alternately uses, skewers and tests. You’ll see flashes of the work of many different choreographers, some iconic and others whose names you may not know. You’ll hear music and text that will take you into the questions in surprising, sometimes unsettling, sometimes magical ways. In the words of dance writer Suzanne Carbonneau, “let it wash over you.” And see what sticks.

~Bonnie Brooks, Dance Center Chair

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