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Robert Moses' KIN

'Lucifer’s Prance,' 'Doscongio,' 'Blood in Time,' 'Solo Suite,' '3 Quartets for 4 and the Second is 2,' 'A Biography of Baldwin: Part I,' 'The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

February 12, 2003 -- Cowell Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA

Few of the Bay Area’s modern choreographers are more highly regarded than Robert Moses and with his latest offering, “A Biography of Baldwin,” which premiered during his company’s latest season at the Cowell Theater, he once more shows us the pleasure of his elegantly intelligent and yet vital work.

For this first installment of what is envisioned as a three part series, Moses uses excerpts from a 1961 panel between James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Emile Capouya and Alfred Kazin as the backdrop for his deceptively impassive, albeit energetic choreography. While the text is a potent political discussion what it means to be a Black writer in America, Moses sets his eight dancers into abstract Cunningham-esque motion against the words, with no apparent agenda evident from the actual steps, but a world of meaning implicit in the steps combined with the words. The result is a serendipitous visual meditation on the clash between aesthetics and politics.

Constructed deftly and with his trademark briskly vibrant use of arms and weight, “A Biography of Baldwin” shows lines and movement from all angles to create a prismatic view of the group. The patterns are at times regular, but morph and shift so that on occasion the coincidence of the text and movement brings new ideas to mind. When the dancers assemble into an X formation it recalls a population at a crossroads, in a kind of organized contention.

It is hard to look at Moses’ multi-ethnic company and not consider how far we may have come in terms of race relations in this country, but how far we have yet to go. And while his dancers, many of whom gave powerful performances, are stronger than ever, there is still none to compare with Moses himself, whose “Solo Suite” perfectly demonstrated his magnetic quality and fluid style.

Excerpted from three other works, included one choreographed for him by Alonzo King, “Solo Suite” uncannily shows us Moses, the performer, as a “deep river.” An unusual mover, his own dancing never appear calculated or forced, but rather heartfelt, as if he were impelled by the sheer pleasure of controlling space.

Bliss Kohlmeyer, while an obviously accomplished performer, has not quite his same quality in her solo, “Doscongio.” Although flawlessly executed, there is an air of detachment to her movement, an internalization, that lessens the impact of the inherent humour and liveliness of the choreography.

There is a similar feeling from other works throughout the evening, although there are more than occasional flashes of dancers inspired to give themselves over to the moment. Amy Foley, leading the charge in “Lucifer’s Prance,” which opened the evening to the strains of Philip Glass’s “Akhenaten,” was a light, spry interpreter of the vagaries of the Minimalist music. This Glass work reminds me of nothing so much as Darth Maul battling Obi-Wan Kenobi in “The Phantom Menace,” and the general air of the piece is one of intense ceremony. Nevertheless, Foley and Tristan Ching found a less mechanical, more human reading within the bacchanalian drive of the score.

Other works on the program included the homespun “Blood in Time,” “3 Quartets for 4 and the Second is 2,” as well as the world premiere of “The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things.”

It was a program that contained more than enough strong pieces, and my only quibble might be with its length. By the time the last piece rolled around, I was feeling a trifle bombarded, although still dazzled by the proficiency of the company as a whole. Nevertheless, four, or even five pieces, would have left me more than satisfied.

Robert Moses’ KIN appears through February 23, 2003 at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco. Program 2 is “Word of Mouth.”

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