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Review 2, 2-26: Lingering Images
Taking a Kin to Robert Moses
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Tsao
SAN FRANCISCO -- I have
been watching Robert Moses' Kin since the troupe started in 1995.
Hearkening back to concerts at the Brady Street Theater and Theater
Artaud, I notice with satisfaction both the choreographer's and
the company's growth and evolution, in evidence in their recent
two-week season at the Cowell Theater in Fort Mason, featuring two
premieres and several works from the repertoire.
The first week's show
opens with "Lucifer's Prance"(2000) to excerpts from Philip Glass's
"Akhnaten." A high-intensity piece utilizing some of the most interesting
patterns, both in space and movement, that I've seen recently, it
offers all the dancers a chance to shine, though soloist Amy Foley
has to work even harder to stay ahead of the rest.
"Doscongio," a solo
from 1997 danced by Bliss Kohlmyer to part of Chopin's Sonata Op.
65, is less compelling. Much of the choreography is too busy and
too fast. In sections when it slows down, it is quite good. Kohlmyer,
who is both technically and artistically powerful, often surpasses
the material, yet also rises to the challenge of sustaining her
rapport with both the movement and the audience for a long time.
Shortening the piece would be a good solution.
Moses wrote the text
that is used along with music by Bill Withers for "Blood in Time."
The anecdotes are both touching and humorous, with Moses reminiscing
about his family life from a very young age. With some equally powerful
choreographic phrases and strong performers, it is surprising that
the work misses the mark and seems a bit disjunctive.
In "Solo Suite," Moses
performs three excerpts from longer pieces, including one by Alonzo
King. As with all mortals, age is catching up with him. Even though
he no longer has what I call the kamikaze edge of youth, that fearless,
reckless abandon that knows not the limits of the human body, Moses
still moves with effortless grace, sincere passion and riveting
The next piece, "3 Quartets
for 4 and the Second is 2," is either a refreshing change or is
oddly out of place within the context of this program. The baroque
music, Bach's Concerto for One and Two Harpsichords, No. 5 in F
minor, coupled with quite classical movement and embellishments,
can be charming. Tristan Ching is astounding, radiating supreme
joy even while executing such excruciatingly difficult steps as
a sequence of turns with leg in attitude a la second with constantly
changing port de bras.
Two premieres follow
the intermission, "A Biography of Baldwin: Part I" and "The Soft
Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things." "Baldwin" has some of the strongest
choreography of the evening. The floor patterns, especially at the
beginning, are so striking I can still see them a week later. Two
lines, one stage left and the other across the back of the stage,
alternate sending dancers out for solos. Then the lines reverse,
with one line stage right and the other stretching across the front
of the stage facing away from the audience. However, the accompanying
text, a 1961 recording of a discussion among James Baldwin, Lorraine
Hansberry, Emile Capouya and Alfred Kazin, is so fascinating that
I find myself wanting to listen to the conversation instead of watching
the dance. I manage to tune it out enough that I can concentrate
on the visual, but I would love to hear it again without the dance,
to fully digest the ideas.
I can't say that I like
the title of "The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things." Yes, it
is suggestive, but also feels a bit cutesy. Maybe it is meant to
be sarcastic and I missed it. Except for the great dancing and an
erotic pas de deux at the end, I am not bowled over. The music by
Jonathan Norton for the first section, and by Daniel Denis for the
other two parts irritates me. Seeing it again might make me feel
differently, but I'll stick to the "Baldwin" for now.
The following week offers
"Word of Mouth," concerned with the role and importance of oral
tradition and story-telling in the African-American community and
how it has evolved and been transformed through time. Moses put
together a mosaic of historic African-American prison songs, calls
and hollers, jazz, boogie-woogie, funk, soul, gospel, rhythm and
blues, and hip hop as the backdrop for his choreographic story-telling.
The first seven dances are fast and furious for the most part. In
the last dance of the second grouping, suddenly the form solidifies
as Todd Eckert, in the role of a preacher, commands attention of
both those on stage and those in the audience. From that point on,
after intermission, the rhythm of the choreography slows down and
finds more variation and nuance. The video projection by Austin
Forbord is intriguing and the set design by Peter Palermo frames
the stage simply, yet strongly. Again, the dancers are incredible.
Like many other prolific
choreographers, Robert Moses creates work that runs the gamut both
stylistically and qualitatively. While not all of anyone's pieces
can be masterpieces, Moses has turned out a handful that I could
watch again and again. He could use a heavier editorial hand on
the less successful dances to great effect, as much of his material
is very original and evocative. There is just too much of it in
too short a time and space. He is attempting to give expression
to many ideas that other African-American artists have grappled
with over the years, and to his own personal experience as a black
man in a both the black community and in the world at large.
After eight years, Robert
Moses' Kin has a solid core of dancers who have been working closely
with the choreographer for more than half that period. It is rare
and amazing to see a stage full of dancers all moving with the same
internal rhythm, coming from the same soulful impetus. Because they
share that sense, they can pull off the most intricate, syncopated
phrases in perfect unison without even trying. They are riding the
wave together and have no choice but to rise and fall with the crests
and troughs. And I am happy to sail off into the sunset with them.
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