The Body Politic, performed January 22 in the Tennessee Williams Center, is a collection of three dance pieces that comments on the relationship between one’s body and society’s expectations of that body. Elizabeth Lentz-Hill and Kelly Ferris Lester, both professors of dance at the University of Southern Mississippi, have performed these pieces for many audiences across the South.
The first solo of the evening, My Body Performs, or a Clean Piko (2015) by Lentz-Hill, combined dialogue and dance to explain her relationship to her gender, sexuality, race, and nationality. By listing the properties and functions of her body as she dances, Lentz-Hill wants her audience to understand that “we are fundamentally people who can relate to each other.”
At the conclusion of this first piece, Lester stepped on stage in a flowing dress to perform In Her Clothes (2015). “My solo was born out of all the different roles I play in my life,” said Lester. Her movement was fluid and free until her character stumbled across a suit placed neatly in a pile on stage left.
In putting on the suit, she began to move in a way that was sharper and stronger. The contrast of these movements, along with the designated costumes, provided commentary on how many women feel compelled to dress and act differently in order to be respected.
Magazines and shopping bags lined the stage as People Issues (2016) began. This duet, a collaboration between Lentz-Hill and Lester, showed how easy it can be to drown in American culture. At the climax of this piece, both dancers rapidly announced statistics about the beauty industry, gun violence, mass incarceration, and other pressing issues in American society. Holding up magazines, the dancers asked: “What kinds of images do you see? Why do you care?”
By presenting statistics through an artistic lense in People Issues, the audience found new ways to empathize with the problems our country is facing. Will Burton-Edwards (C’18) commented, “Numbers don’t give emotional connection.” To him, the pairing of dance and reality created a new view on systemic problems.
After the performance, Dr. Paige Schneider of the politics and women’s and gender studies departments led a discussion that allowed the audience to converse with the choreographers and contribute their own interpretations of the dances.
During the discussion, Lentz-Hill remarked, “These pieces keep evolving. This motivation is still so relevant today.” These dancers turn the pain of society into art, and in doing so encourage audience members to reflect on their own position in the American body politic.