In 'Legalize Menstruation,' Loud Bodies dances about motherhood and period privilege

In a city filled with creatives fighting for a chance to make an impact, Loud Bodies— a Chicago-based dance company founded by co-directors Maria Blanco and Yariana Baralt Torres—has taken immense strides to combat social injustice. Since their company’s inception in 2018, the duo has tackled everything from women’s rights to LGBTQ+ advocacy, and they are nothing if not loud and proud about who they are as both artists and people. “Legalize Menstruation,” Loud Bodies’ most recent performance Saturday and Sunday at Preston Bradley Center, does not deviate from Loud Bodies’ standard of excellence in terms of activism. The project was backed by the Chicago Period Project, and a community of people filled this open-concept theater space to cheer them on with a contagious level of enthusiasm.

Blanco and Torres came onstage dressed to the nines in vibrant colors, clearly excited to tee up the approximately forty-five-minute creation to come. The electronic programs we’re instructed to pull up inform the audience that the bill consists of two works. The second, “Does Anybody Have a Tampon?” is clearly the evening’s titular inspiration, but before diving headfirst into the process of becoming a woman the company premiers an additional work choreographed by Taimy Ramos. 

“Ciclo Ancestral” is a short and sweet ode to the connection between a mother and a daughter. Portrayed by Ramos and Marceia Scruggs, the two remain in opposition for a majority of the piece, which in turn makes the moments of connection purposeful and dramatic. Specifically, an interaction in which Scruggs dresses Ramos in a colorful, floor-length skirt draws our focus to Scruggs’ motherly attention to detail. Though their bodies rarely come into contact, as Ramos explores the stage with sweeping movement and knots herself in the skirt with calculated precision, Scruggs observes, perched on a decorative white chair. This image is akin to a mother bird watching a baby bird fly from the nest, and as Ramos removes the skirt to transform it into what appears to be a baby bundle, the purpose of piece becomes suddenly clear. As Ramos replaces Scruggs on the chair, newcomer Kait Dessoffy harks back to Ramos’ original opening position; it is embodiment of the matriarchal cycle, wherein a daughter turns into a mother and mother becomes a grandmother. The piece fades to black after just one rotation, but it is easy to imagine the cycle will go on forever. 

The connection between the process of becoming a mother and the entirety of a woman’s menstrual cycle is not lost on me, yet the transition between “Ciclo Ancestral” and “Does Anybody Have a Tampon?” is. There’s a playfully casual tone as new dancers Kristen Donovan and Simone Stevens enter the space with pieces of what’s to be the new set: a red and white striped blanket and a second decorative white chair. Scruggs and Dessoffy change costumes with haste and enter once again, but it seems the transitional time lags on as the quartet continues to awkwardly warm up. It’s endearing to see them in such a friendly manner, but it does make it difficult to decipher when the piece actually begins for a decently long period of time. That being said, once they start gesturing wildly around the uterus region, it’s safe to say “Does Anybody Have a Tampon?” is starting. 

Cheekiness meets athleticism as the group executes sharp, period-inspired gestural choreography— think checking pants for a possible blood stain or grabbing at their stomachs to mime the pain of menstrual cramps— to thumping bass in clean unison. Slowly but surely, the four break the fourth wall as they outright ask the audience if anyone does, in fact, have a tampon. The laughter that fills the theater is, in part, because their delivery is comedic in nature, but also because the question is so unbelievably relatable to anyone who’s been caught off-guard by her monthly flow. The room begins to accept the obscureness of a piece about periods as everyone continues to laugh along at all things menstrual can go amiss, no matter how prepared you are. 

From first time experiences to horror stories about inconvenient timing, the first three-quarters of the work are decidedly light-hearted. It isn’t until the final 10 minutes that the tone shifts into more serious territory. It’s dancer Simone Stevens that truly moves the audience with a compelling monologue about period privilege—a concept I’d heard of but didn’t fully understand until that moment. The idea that access to tampons, pads and menstrual cups is a privilege seemed jarring, mostly because I’d always thought of my period as a monthly annoyance. We hear Stevens’ striking words with an educational tone, but her movement comes across sultry and smooth as she moves in and out of the floor with ease. The work ends in the same place it began, in a quasi-family portrait, yet it’s an entirely new image after the performance the dancers just gave.

“Legalize Menstruation,” quite literally educates, motivates and empowers women through strong voices and brilliant movement. The sitcom-level comedy to documentary-level serious tonal shifts sprinkled throughout “Does Anybody Have a Tampon?” could only be the thoughtful byproduct of its choreographically and directorially gifted directors. And as the evening rounded to a close, Blanco and Torres left me contemplating the necessity for immediate action in addressing period privilege, which I hope is a win for the social activist creators.