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The Kitchen

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Lucifer Humming at the Back Door
Moses Takes Frisco Dance Beyond the Usual Valid Subject Matter

By Susan Maxwell
Copyright 2001 Susan Maxwell

SAN FRANCISCO -- Robert Moses's Kin finished its home season to standing ovations at the Gerswhin Theatre Sunday. The program, which swerved from the strangely carnavalesque to the ethereal and back again, ended with a rousing good time. In the final piece, the entire company was onstage performing reminiscences of '50s social dances to Ben Harper singing "That's the power of the gospels..." Moses has an eye for balletic lines and Cunningham stage patternings. He also has a feel for the spasm, an emotional overdrive working its way through the body and resolving into exhaustion, signaled often by an arm left crooked and hanging in the air. Add to these valences a group of disciplined and exuberant dancers and you've got something out of the ordinary here. It's a choreography which mines cacophony and the density of moving bodies as grace notes, giving one the sense of an actual community occurring in front of one's eyes onstage.

A dance called "Lucifer's Prance" began the show with a rather ominous and studied religiosity which seemed a little off the mark; women were hauled around crucifixion-style and static pose dissolved into static pose. The movement announced itself as (again) ominous but despite the title of the piece, one felt shut out from the narrative which would have lent this texture context. Further into the dance, however, Moses found his ground. The choreography loosened up by finding the awkward, the almost grotesque movements which bear emotional charge. These seemed to slip happily out of the clean technique which also fires the work. A group floor section featuring insect-like splayed legs and a unison theatrical shivering was most memorable. Also, the audacious choice of operatic music by Glass layered over already operatic movement really flew.

The next piece, "3 Quartets for 4 and the Second is Two," changed gears completely, being a good-natured parody of dance defined (perhaps?) by dead whitey. The two duets kicked off near the beginning with the men lifting the women and the women held up interminably with their feet flapping like fish out of water. There was also a tortuous flexed foot adagio which could only make one say Oh boy, oh ouch. The sense of humor of the choreography (i.e., gestures of affected love and support between the couples ) shone through the dancers' readily apparent sense of humor, even as they executed challenging, closely-timed partnering.

"Humm," set to traditional spirituals, brought us into the ethereal realm and, while the movement's surface was smooth and beautiful, the choreography didn't manage to carry the same impact of uniqueness as in the other pieces. It came off as more abstract and for that reason more susceptible to the gratuitous arabesque or turn; a problem which disappeared, however, in the next dance, "Lone." Where did this piece come from? Delightfully outside the usual San Francisco genres of valid dance subject matter, the first half was a solo performed on a pew by Tianne Frias. The pop/technoish song it was set to recounted a sadomasochistic encounter gone awry (or maybe aright). The juxtaposition of religion and "deviant" sex is not a new idea, but Lone truly worked it for all it's worth, the choreography staying emotionally quite on-task as Frias shivered and spasmed and wrestled with the bench.

One left the show feeling that indeed, Moses and his kin are blazing an energetic path into their very own sultry, spirited idiom.


Susan Maxwell is a San Francisco-based dancer currently earning her Masters Degree in creative writing from the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. She has previously written for Contact Quarterly, and worked with Jo Kreiter and other choreographers.

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