This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian 5/13/2014
Sisterhood of Rhythm: Sarah Bush Dance Project’s fierce, fun ‘Rocked by Women’
By Rita Felciano
DANCE The Mother’s Day weekend premiere of Sarah Bush Dance Project’s reconceived 2011 Rocked by Women was a tenderly raucous, often humorous celebration of an overly sentimentalized holiday. Bush looks at the education of a “girlchild” in the “not-so-promised land” by paying tribute to the mothers who raised us physically. But it was pioneer “mothers” — the feminists of the 1970s, the lesbian activists of many decades, artists and entrepreneurs like Olivia Records and Club Q — who made us the women we have become. Their legacy, Bush realized, was in danger of being forgotten by the current generation of women for whom the battles had been fought. Molded into a convincing piece of dance theater, Rocked by Women is a joyous and self-effacing acknowledgement of prices paid and gains won.
Just as music energized the civil rights movement of the 1960s, feminism in its earlier and later stages drew inspiration from talented musicians who started the women’s music movement. Bush drew on that rich heritage and shaped Rocked‘s three parts around contributions from two generations of songwriters such as Holly Near, Cris Williams, and k.d. lang, as well as Janet Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Missy Elliott, and Bikini Kill. Julie Wolf also contributed music arrangements and wrote original songs.
Rocked derives its impressive energy as much from music as from dance. Yet Natalie Aceves, Krystal Bates, Joanna Gartner, Bianca Mendoza, Juliann Witt, and Bush performed with an intuitive grace, passion, and an almost delirious delight at the choreography’s lush physicality. Much like works by Dance Brigade (Bush’s home company), Rocked contains personal material that also feels universal, speaking to those who don’t fit into given norms, and who have had to struggle to become who they are meant to be. Using contact improv, disco, jazz, and hip-hop in an almost narrative way, the individual dances comment on the songs but do so from a distance. At its best, Rocked became a weighty yet explosive expression of the power of an indomitable spirit and embracing courage.