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Robert Moses' Kin - 'Draft'

by Toba Singer

August 23, 2006 -- ODC Theater, San Francisco

I saw Robert Moses' work for the first time about 11 years ago. Someone in my ballet class was dancing with him and convinced me to come see her perform. I later had an opportunity to collaborate with him on a one-day project, and based on that experience, he asked me to join the board of the company Robert Moses' Kin. That company gets leggier each year. This year, according to Karena Fiorenza Ingersoll, who introduced the evening's program as Robert Moses' Kin's "first second season," "Kin" has just performed at the Bates College Dance Festival, to a full house at Jacob's Pillow, and will be a part of the Black Arts Festival, as well as the City Center Fall for Dance Festival.

Moses' took the floor to explain how the evening's program was assembled. Thirty-one female dancers, including five women from his own company, met and worked with him for one hour to generate some initial ideas. All of the work we would see was less than a week old and put on stage "as is," with no particular expectations as to performance quality or how it would all come together. The second part of the program was an audience participation segment, during which every member of the audience who stayed was required to participate.

The ODC performance studio was draped in white, and dancers arrived in canons of fours or fives to take positions and ranged along the sides or back wall of the studio. 35 spots of varying sizes shone on the floor, and each dancer began in one of the spots and worked her way into the adjacent space.  The short studies were quick sketches that captured Moses' signature choreography: glides, hand investigations, and floor stretches, always symmetrical ,with contrasting bursts of motion to punctuate an extended stretch or reach, with dancers grabbing their own attitude feet, and then twitching out energy in Morse Code-like dispatches. What came shining through was that, technique aside (and for the most part, it wasn't), these dancers were there because of how they moved—not a scintilla of artifice, and nobody dancing anything less than full out ++. There were promenades and spine rotations, aggressive use of space, crane motifs and winged poses, extenuating floor glides and deep pliés in second that could have raised Doris Humphrey from the dead.

If you have ever heard a dancer say, "It took me all my life to realize that I shouldn't compare myself to anyone but myself," here is the place to see dancers who have figured that out sooner rather than later, and succeed in making it happen. The result: They outdo themselves, over and over again.

There was only one segment that didn't work (for me), and that was when a drape was lowered from the wings and held by a line of dancers while solos were performed in the drape's "hull." The entire left side of the house could not see the dancer who was performing. That's something that can be easily fixed, should the choreographer so choose.

The second half of the evening consisted of Moses’ taking ideas from the audience and then working those ideas up serially: in pairs, quartets and octets, with members of the audience as his dancers, who seemed to genuinely enjoy participating in the process.

The overall impact of the evening was to show what dancers who are first and foremost movers can do with an idea or three in less than a week. When you think about rehearsals that go on for months until dancers can perform the work in their sleep and seem to be doing exactly that, with faces that go blank for fear of showing anger and resentment at being overworked or overworked and injured, this experiment can truly be their Happy Place—and ours!

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