Subin Yang

With gender roles a common topic in political discourse, feminists frequently share their views through social media, blogs, and political actions, but when words fail us, art is a first-rate back-up to express worthy voices that might be silenced by the volume of a reactionary opposition.

WolfBird Dance’s latest production, Where to Wear What Hat, is one of these works. It examines the 1950s and how that era defined the way women “should” present themselves. Artistic Directors Selina DiPronio and Raven Jones describe their production as “a blistering commentary on the societal roles women are expected to play.” It’s an opportunity to see dancers use their bodies to express their perspectives and experiences with feminism.

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Beginning behind the scenes of a beauty pageant, everything in Where to Wear What Hat is bright—the lights, the colors, the clothes, and, especially, the smiles. Smiles in this world are forced into place by an invisible hand; like the women’s arsenal of specific undergarments and subservient attitudes, they seem mandatory. The petticoats here are big, and the pettiness between the “girls” is even bigger. A conflict begins to lift the glamorous façade to show the shadows underneath. The characters continue to spiral, stripping away their many layers (in both costume and conduct).

The choreography of Where to Wear What Hat is so organic, the audience might wonder if the dancers are making it up as they go along. Physical interactions between bodies create a sense of communication, reflecting moments of solidarity. The staging is brilliantly executed, evoking the claustrophobic feeling of what it’s like to be restricted—and even smothered—by the role you’re told to play.