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Robert Moses' KIN

'other gods,' 'Biography,' 'Tasogare,' excerpt, 'Cause'

The Long and the Short of KIN

by Mary Ellen Hunt

May 7, 2004 -- Kanbar Hall, Jewish Community Center, San Francisco, CA

The newly-opened Jewish Community Center in San Francisco is a space that has been eagerly awaited, not the least by performing organizations, and on the dance side of things, Robert Moses' KIN snagged the honor of being the first dance company to grace the stage in the multi-use Kanbar Hall.

The mixed rep program which the company showed for this ninth annual season included several premieres, as well as a more compact and sharpened version of Moses' "Biography," which debuted last season as "Biography of Baldwin." This season's company is full of RMK regulars that we've watched grow stronger with each passing year, like Amy Foley, Tristan Ching, Tianne Frias. And making her impressive bow with the company this year is the impeccable Katherine Wells, familiar to Bay Area Dance fans from a variety of projects.

"other gods," a world premiere work that opened the program, showed off the simplicity and grace that marks Moses' own dancing. Even more than this though, it bore the mark of a very human brand of interaction in its thoughtful, yet physical duets and quartets. Midway through in a duet, the lanky Wells danced with her partner with a lonely wistfulness. Beautiful careful movements arranged into cultivated poses were shattered with a fling and then he left. Wells herself has something of Moses' quality of movement, and it's hard not to see her as a stand-in for Moses, who only appeared briefly in this show. The compact Amy Foley seen side by side with Wells near the end, is a different creature -- explosive, rather than lanky, even though both of them move faster than seems humanly possible.

As with the other premiere of the program "Cause," "other gods," is a bit too long, but one thing I've learned about Moses is that he often later takes a sure hand in editing his own work. "Biography of Baldwin" was effective, and most promising last year, but also a bit too long. This season, it's just about perfect.

Set to scratchy recordings of African American authors James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, there was always and still remains the delightful problem of concentration. A kind of right-brain/left-brain fight between the desire to listen to the fascinating panel discussion and the desire to watch the dancers.

In simple dark pants and shirts, the dancers begin in an L-shaped block of light to the words, "To be a Negro in this country is to be in a state of rage..." Moses doesn't sneak up on you, but rather raps you on the knuckles with fast explosive movement that reflects the quiet rage that Baldwin speaks of. The eight dances are both cool and white hot at the same time, occasionally glaring out confrontationally at the audience as if we represented a world set against them on principle.

In this latest version of the piece, Moses' arrangements of his figures has been both condensed and strengthened. The crossroads section, in which dancers form an X on the stage with moves that ripple from the center, becomes a powerful visualization of both contention and isometry not just in the geometry, but in the way the dancers react to each other. When Moses himself slips quietly onstage, his presence demands attention immediately.

"Biography" accesses an emotional core that one senses is present in "Cause," a joint project that will make its full debut at the Youth Speaks poetry slam event in the fall. But with four poets live onstage with the dancers, and a few others taped, there was certainly too much going on, but much of it relatively predictable.

"Cause" still has the fragmentary feeling of a work in progress, and no doubt, it will be smoothed quite a bit between now and October. Any awkwardness certainly did not originate with the dancers, but when you place polished seasoned pros, like the dancers of RMK, next to young brash, apparently articulate, but relatively green teenagers, you have to take care. Far too easily, it can only make the younger players look inexperienced and less than focused.

If one doubted that sheer experience counted for much, one only had to consider guest artist Bruce "Mui" Ghent's ritualistically paced, yet never less than compelling walk through "Tasogare," a taiko accompanied work, which the company premiered in late May. Here Ghent wanders amidst the creatures of the company -- like the wondering Everyman of Cirque de Soleil productions - holding attention with just his own concentration.


Edited by Editor

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