This Summer, pistils meet epistemology as The Seldoms dance company celebrates their 20th anniversary by asking, “Why is a flower beautiful?” The more you think of the question the more elusive the answer seems to be.
Perhaps spoken language is not fit for such metaphysical quandaries. Instead, perhaps the language of dance can succeed where spoken words fail.
Technically, The Seldoms turned twenty in 2022, but such a momentous milestone deserves a year-long observation—including participation in the Art on the Mart event last Spring and as an exhibit, titled “Toolbox,” at the Hyde Park Arts Center last Fall. But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
On June 1, the company presents “Superbloom” at the Harris Theatre, based on capricious superblooms—a rare natural event that sees wildflowers springing up en masse in arid regions.
Founding Artistic Director Carrie Hanson explores humanity’s relationship with nature, the good and the bad. “The topic in a nutshell is the beauty of nature,” said Hanson in an interview. “It fits into a body of work of ours about environment. We’ve done a piece about landfills and plastic pollution; we’ve done a few pieces about climate change and the American obsession with grass and lawns—those all function as a social critique. This one is more like an observation of this radical beauty of this botanical phenomenon, the superbloom.”
Hanson draws inspiration from the writing of American poet, essayist, lecturer, and environmental activist, Gary Snyder. “He’s been sitting at the top of my bookshelf and the top of my mind for years,” said Hanson. “When I heard about this superbloom event I found it so compelling. It takes a particular set of environmental factors to happen—the right rainfall, wind and temperature—and you get this explosion of wildflowers in desert settings. It transforms the landscape into these massive patches of color—purple, orange and yellow. I’m intrigued by the wild untamability of that.”
The creative process involved dancers looking at photographs of colorful flowers in bloom—poppies, bluebells and the preciously-named Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus—to achieve what Hanson calls “movement invention,” developing a somatic language based on the lines, tapering and architecture of the flower to create idiosyncratic solo material. “We have a set of solos that we refer to as our ‘turbulence solos,’” said Hanson, “which refers to Gary Snyder’s definition of ‘turbulence’ as a discrete, singular, energetic flow that is essential to the river, or the tree, or to the mountain, or to a person… We kept thinking about ‘why is the flower beautiful?’ and concluded ‘because it needs to be,’ it needs to reproduce. We are trying to pay attention to the virtuosity of a flower, and the material is very lush and draws attention to its own sensuality.”
Audiences will see the style of dance chronologically shift from a spare, spiky movement vocabulary to movements that bloom and become rounded and more sensuous. As an example, Hanson hints at a recurring motif in the work, saying that “The hands are an important motif in this dance. They use popping, budding and blooming gestures.” Besides solos, the fifty-five-minute work features different groupings of dancers, including a duet featuring dancers Gabriela Chavez and Haley Marcin that Hanson started to explain, but had to cut herself off, emotion getting the better of her. “I’m sorry, I get a little teary every time I think about it! (laughs).” The passion in her voice describes the work better than words ever could.
The Seldoms continue their tradition of collaboration with artists from different disciplines, which in the past included sound designers, playwrights, poets, architects and fashion designers. For “Superbloom,” Hanson pairs her choreography alongside the work of long-time partner, lighting designer Julie Ballard, and features music by Finom (Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart) and visual design by painter Jackie Kazarian and video artist Liviu Pasare.
Hanson says that “Superbloom” is especially relevant to residents who live within Chicago, whose concept of nature is anything but natural. “Nature is often mediated by man. Us urban folk, when we think about nature, we think about places like the Chicago Botanical Garden. It is beautiful but totally mediated; It’s designed, cultivated, but not really wild nature.”
From garage spaces in Pilsen to swimming pools to one of the most prestigious theaters in the city, The Seldoms continue to fill the entire city with dance while confronting issues of ontology and epistemology. Why is a flower beautiful? Because it has to be. When words fail, the dance will prevail.
“Superbloom” premiers at The Harris Theatre for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, on June 1 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20-$60 and are available by clicking the event link below.