Catherine Siller is used to commanding the attention of people around her—especially on harsh truths they might not often face.
The Somerville-based dancer and multimedia performance artist interrogates beauty standards in her newest work, “Are You Buying?,” which will be performed in an empty storefront window by Downtown Crossing.
The theatrical piece combines an interpretive dance—choreographed and performed by Siller, who plays a fashion mannequin traveling through time and space—with a pre-recorded animation that she also created. A mashup of radio clips and TV commercials will also play during the performance.
“I’ve always found advertising incredibly seductive,” Siller says about her decision to include multimedia clips. “But when I started looking more closely at the messaging—get flawless skin instantly, says a beautiful model surrounded by op art and flowers—I realized that ads are completely absurd. I started making videos and performances to explore this juxtaposition.”
The medium of dance works in this piece, she explains, because it allows her “to communicate [her] emotional response to beauty stereotypes through body language and facial expressions.”
“The choreography is basically a series of poses taken from ads from the 1920s to today,” she says. “But as I move from one pose to another, I morph through different emotional states—excited, embarrassed, uncertain, haughty. A laugh becomes a scream. There’s a palpable tension between the pose that I’m trying to emulate and the way that I feel about that pose.”
This tension is to be expected from a performance that she calls “definitely political,” and Siller looks forward to engaging with audiences in unexpected ways throughout the piece with various gestures and facial expressions. She also hopes to inspire change in her audiences with this piece.
“I hope that after seeing ‘Are You Buying?’ audiences will be more critical consumers of advertising,” she says. “Do we truly want the product that an ad is selling? Or are we buying out of some pressure that we feel to keep up?”
‘Are You Buying?’ will run from Sept. 12 to 15 at 349 Washington St., Boston, with performances at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, and is supported in part by the Boston Foundation’s Next Steps for Boston Dance grant, the Downtown Crossing Business Improvement District and LuminArtz.