Put Your Body in Motion: Award-winning RSO dances to the end of the season

RBIM shot by Marco Mambelli

It’s hard to draw a crowd for a ticketed event that falls on the same weekend as Summer Breeze, when many in the University of Chicago community feel that their Weekend Fun Quota is definitively full, their Friday night would be better spent in the library, and they shouldn’t shell out more cash for another event. But Rhythmic Bodies in Motion pulled it off last week, when “Change is Gonna Come,” the third incarnation of their annual end-of-the-year show, brought in a nearly-packed house. The assembled audience loudly welcomed RBIM with cat-calls and was eager to take in their distinctive offering of multi-genre dance performances, and RBIM delivered. “Change is Gonna Come” featured almost two dozen different dance performances, with all choreography and costume design done by students. The result was a charmingly eclectic set of works, the result of collaboration among a large group of people with an assorted set of tastes.

But RBIM isn’t eclectic by accident. The group was founded on the principle of diversity, in three forms: diversity of ethnicity, diversity of skill, and diversity of style. All three were in full force last Friday night. The performers and the audience were both much more of an ethnic grab bag than you would expect at any UofC event, and the diversity of skill meant that a huge variety of students, both newbies and hardcore dancers, were given a chance to showcase their work. But the diversity of style was perhaps the most striking aspect of the event, and is a major part of what makes RBIM so distinctive. Pre-show publicity promised “modern, jazz, African, lyrical, ballet, bellydance, hip hop, caribbean, salsa, merengue, tap, and line dance,” and all of those genres were indeed there, but what was even more impressive was the blending of styles and the immense amount of energy that clearly went into each part of the performance. It was obvious that every dancer in each dance had a genuine personal interest in the piece, and the company’s enthusiasm spread contagiously. “It was the best decision I could have made,” says fourth-year Leslie Rosales, a veteran dancer who had set the craft aside for most of her time at the UofC, of her choice to return to dance through Rhythmic Bodies in Motion. She says that the fun of being with the company, the effort that goes into making individual dances as strong as they can be, and grouping together people with similar interests to work together on pieces are the elements that came together to make RBIM this year’s Most Outstanding RSO, a title they took home at an ORCSA award ceremony last week.

First-year Sung Eun Jung agrees. “[The award] makes me proud and I believe it proves the quality of our performance,” she says. “RBIM attracts so many dancers, choreographers and audiences because we are open to everyone who wants to join. Personally, [‘Change is Gonna Come’] was my first time doing a jazz dance piece, and although it was quite challenging, I truly enjoyed it. Next year, I’m hoping to join some other dance pieces which I have never tried before, such as salsa or African dance.”

That inclination toward experimentation characterized the progression of “Change is Gonna Come,” which opened with a piece choreographed to “Seven Nation Army,” the percussive rock song by the White Stripes. The choreography managed to make use of the vigor of the song’s persistent beat and Jack White’s rousing vocals without being obvious. The show also used songs as varied as Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” an instrumental rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and Missy Elliot’s “She’s a Bitch.” Of course, the downside of non-professional choreography is that it can be hit-or-miss, and there were a couple of near-misses (how could a dance to Bon Jovi’s “Shot Through the Heart” be so sedate and aloof?), but the payoff is a collection of works that are inventive in a way that maybe requires the daring and willingness to make mistakes that are so particular to youth. That bold spirit came through especially in a performance set to Nina Simone singing her oft-sampled classic “Sinnerman.” As Simone wailed plaintively of the boiling sea and one man’s desperate pleas for mercy from the God and the devil, dancers told the tale with their bodies; they were narrative without being clichÈd and expressive without being melodramatic. It was truly outstanding.