Robert Moses' KIN

"Word of Mouth"

Cowell Theater, San Francisco, CA

February 2, 2002
by Lisa Claybaugh

I have been hearing about this company for a couple of years. I am familiar with the work of several of the dancers in the company. But I was still unprepared for the very professional performance I was offered on Saturday night. I have come to expect disappointment from most of the dance companies that are so often hyped in the Bay Area. There is repeatedly a lack of professionalism in the attitude of the performers and in the production values. This piece had none of that. And I was impressed.

The evening-long piece in question was Word of Mouth. Robert Moses started out to make a work exploring the oral and musical traditions of storytelling in the African-American community, a subject with tremendous depth. This piece seems unfinished, and reading the program notes, it becomes apparent why. He intends there to be at least two more works on this subject. There is just that much material.

The structure of the piece was sometimes unclear. I found myself wondering which section we were in. Sometimes the sections transitioned through a change in music, sometimes it was a costume change, and sometimes it was just a different poem being projected on the scrim. It wasn't consistent and became confusing. That was a minor problem however, and it did not detract from the overall positive effect of the piece. I felt like I was seeing something that was going to enrich my understanding of the African-American experience, even though I might not understand it all. The music was a combination of traditional folksongs, jazz, hip-hop, rap and gospel. The company seemed at its strongest when the music was the most driving, drawing energy off of it. The media projections were expertly executed by Austin Forbord, though at times they distracted from the dancing simply because they were so interesting themselves. They definitely added clarity to the piece as a whole and really solidified what the movement was trying to convey. All of the production elements (costumes, lights, sets, projections) were of the highest quality. This particular theater shows off dance very well, which was surely a contributing factor to the clean look and smooth running of the show.

The movement was fluid and organic with expressive use of arms and hands. Sometimes I felt they were using significant signs and gestures I wasn't privy to, but that seemed to enhance the overall theme. The choreography is technically demanding and all of the dancers rose to the challenge, especially in the complicated turn sections. There was quite a bit of partnering, some of it beautifully inventive, and always appropriate to the music and story. Stand out dancers were Bliss Kohlmeyer (a blond Amazon with soul), Lauren Marcogliese (the queen of the club kids) and Danielle Colding (the only one who truly internalized the Afro-Carribean sections). Tristan Ching, whose stage presence can very pleasantly take over a piece, was surprisingly subdued until the second half where she suddenly seemed more like her charismatic self. Todd Eckert was particularly good in the "Learnin' In Secret" solo. And Eckert joined by Jose Comoda and Carlos Gonzalez were hilariously accurate as a trio of posing street-smart wiseguys.

Word of Mouth is an ambitious venture. It could prove to catapult this company to the next level of professional quality and notoriety. And they would deserve it.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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