“Power Goes” Review –LBJ’s Essence Told Through Dance


The lights come on and we see two female dancers on the stage.   One is leaning forward to create a concave shape in what many with historic memory or study will immediately see as the trademark LBJ overpowering stance.  The other curls backwards to make a convex perfect mirror arc of her partner, reminding of the congressmen LBJ so famously bent to his will.  In an instant, the theme of the workings of power populates our mind as it does the stage.   We remain mesmerized by the exploration of this theme—using dance, video, lighting and a sound tapestry—for 90 minutes.



LBJ, the subject of this work, was a most physical man using his large presence to intimidate, cajole and more.  “Power Goes” captures and explores this connection between power and physicality in great detail.  We are transfixed as “Power Goes” newly defines power in a visceral dimension telling the story of LBJ’s rise and fall along the way. 



This is beyond entertainment.  This is one MCA-sponsored work (via their MCA Stage/New Works Initiative) that has nurtured what seems to be an entirely new genre of dance developed by a team of a dozen including Director/Choreographer Carrie Hanson, Bob Faust for Video and Installation, Mikhail Fiksel for Sound Design and Composition, among others.     



Perhaps we can give this new art form a working title of  “dance historical impressionism”.   Whatever handle it goes by, historians should take note, and not just LBJ’s most famed biographer Robert Caro.  If you want a portrait of a historical figure to take flight into the center of an audience’s imagination and bypass the limitations of your writer’s pen call The Seldoms.



The six dancers in The Seldoms Ensemble (Philip Elso, Christina Gonzalez-Gillet, Damon D. Green, Javier Marchán-Ramos, Amanda McAlister-Howard and Cara Sabin) give an energetic performance.  We also learned in the post-performance discussion that these dancers also helped shape the choreography through the improvisational exercises that are the modus operandi of Hanson’s choreography.



At one moment one or another dancer growls like a rabid dog with their head taken over by jaw snarls. Throughout there are many high tension physical tugs of war in constantly shifting permutations that by evening’s end create a library of movement motifs exploring wills bent and conquering. When two dancers team up to give the audience a caricature of the LBJ threatening point we feel cornered.  When they lampoon LBJ’s famous flaunting of body functions to tame his opponents we laugh.   With the help of more than a dozen chorus members the dancers bring the power of the many lived out in the movements of the 60’s to the stage too, drilling down yet another layer into how power comes and goes.  At one point there are ensemble calisthenics that speak to the subterranean roiling intrinsic to power dynamics. 



Political junkies will especially luxuriate in the many layers of this tale and especially the speeches and sound design.  From the start we are sparked to contrast poverty-born LBJ from the Texas Hill Country to the only-in-America biography of Barack Obama, with LBJ talking about his exposure to dirt poverty interwoven with excerpts from Obama’s famous speech about racism sparked by the Reverend Wright episode in his first campaign.  In one cameo moment we get treated to Barbara Jordan’s stentorian pipes talking about the enormity of changing an entire nation.  With dance movements echoing his refrain, LBJ’s folksy speech saying it’s one thing to tell someone to go to hell and other thing to send them there is repeated in between references to other presidents from Truman to Nixon and the great coifed Kennedy.  


If you can recall McNamara’s recount in the film “Fog of War” of how he and LBJ could not stop themselves from pursuing the unwinnable Vietnam fiasco you’ll especially know why the title “Power Goes”, with an emphasis on the “..Goes”  is so apt.  The visual/video design by Faust, excellent throughout, especially delivered an emotional wallop as the chant begins, “LBJ how many kids did you kill today?”


By evening’s end, even with the LBJ story rewrite of the film “Selma” still in the air, a nagging question comes to mind-- “Would we ever have gotten a Voting Rights Act or the War on Poverty programs like Head Start without LBJ?” 


On March 28 1-3 PM there will be a (free) MCA hosted talk as part of this performance that will include, among others, the Director of the LBJ Presidential Library.  There are six more performances of “Power Goes” through Sunday, March 29.  This is a must-see performance for lovers of history, political junkies or anyone who wants to see dance break barriers. 


For tickets call the MCA Box Office at 312 397 4010 or visit the MCA Stage web pages




Photos:  William Frederking

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