featured photo
The Kitchen
Brought to you by
Body Wrappers;
New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home

Flash Review 2, 2-26: Lingering Images
Taking a Kin to Robert Moses

By Aimee Ts’ao
Copyright 2003 Aimee Ts’ao

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 focus.

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.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home