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How Lyndon Johnson Inspired the Seldoms’ Next Show

The modern dance troupe tackles the physicality of power in Power Goes.

LBJ Seldoms
Photo: Jeff Sciortino

While reading Pulitzer winner Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, choreographer Carrie Hanson found herself fascinated with the brazen body language of the 6-foot-4 president. “He imposed his physicality over people, leaning into them, pointing his big finger in their faces,” she says. “He really used his body as an instrument of power.”

The artistic director of the Seldoms, Hanson drew on that research for the contemporary dance ensemble’s new work, Power Goes, a multimedia piece opening on March 20 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. She and collaborator Stuart Flack, a local playwright, use LBJ’s bullying moves as a springboard for a sweeping exploration of might.

“We see power in its most minute and in its most vast and lofty [forms],” says Flack. “We’re not talking about power as bad. We’re talking about power as a basic fact of how people relate to one another.”

 
Lyndon B. Johnson and Louis Martin
Johnson gets up in presidential adviser Louis Martin’s face in 1966. Photo: (Johnson, right, and Louis Martin) White House Photo Office

“The infamous ‘Johnson treatment’ is well documented,” says Hanson. “He’d bust through normal etiquette rules. The backwards jacket is a way of playing with the metaphor of entrapment.”

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