Robert Moses at the Lam Research Center Theater

8 Feb

Robert Moses is one of the most idiosyncratic choreographers currently working in the San Francisco Bay Area.  His moving voice, spatial and verbal, is very much concerned with social justice as well as the African American existence, historical and contemporary.  Unlike Joanna Haigood, he doesn’t rely on site-specific inspiration, even though he can deal with historical events.  But his work usually is seen within the confines of a proscenium arch.  If I were try to align him with the spectrum of African American choreographers I’ve seen in the past fifty plus years, I would say he is closest in spirit to the late Ed Mock.  Both men were singular   dancers who later taught and choreographed, although Mock relied on his unique vocal sounds, as special as Bobbie McFerrin.  Moses’ hand and arm vocabulary are his special movement signature.  And Moses has come to rely on speech, usually declamatory.

Moses is a spinner of tales, but I remember a pas de deux he created and performed I believe to Brahms.  I wish I could locate the program when he danced in an Isadora Duncan Dance Awards Program at Krissy Keefer’s Brady Street.  Dressed in simple white, Moses and his partner danced around the periphery of that wonderful space and down the middle.  In retrospect it was almost a ritual baptism, an immersion in its formality.  To the best of my knowledge Moses has never repeated that choreographic quality again.

As he gathered his group, Moses danced at the Cowell Theatre, University of San Francisco’s Gershwin’s Theater where San Francisco Ballet once performed, the Kanbar Theatre at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center and recent seasons at Yerba Buena Center’s Theatre, now called The Lam Research Center.  Here, Nevabawarldapece, Moses’ latest choreography was premiered January 25-27 with a wonderful set of musicians: Laure Love, Corey Harris, Chris “Peanut” Whitley, Gordon “Saxman” Jones, Kenneth “Trini Joe,” Joseph, Jayson “Brother” Morgan, Woody Simmons. The writer Carl Hancock Rux was stationed with the musicians at upper stage left.

The Robert Moses’ Kin company numbered ten dancers: Brendan Barthel, Crystaldawn Bell, Vincent Chavez, Norma Fong, Carly Johnson, Dexandro “D” Montalvo, Jeremy Bennon-Neches, Josie Garthwaite Sadan, Victor Talledos, Katherine Wells.

The declamatory qualities of Carlo Hancock Rux imposed themselves over the loosely structured movement of the ten dancers, intrusive with his rational vocabulary, now so standard in analyzing contemporary urban society and current affairs.  Those wonderful dancers, particularly Crystaldawn Bell and Katherine Wells, were moving with their unique styles with this arrogant voice and words intoning around and above them.  The dancers moved within Moses’ design, sometimes in clumps, sometimes in lines, frequently in individual variations to the sounds of the musicians.  Rux later toned down his rhetoric if reciting words, names and ideas of virtually every problem plaguing the U.S. culture for the last twenty or thirty years.  If there was anything to understand from the divergence of dancers and declamation, it was the sometimes aimless,occasional purposeful nature of the human being against the word blanket obscuring us from the joys of dailiness or the cohesion required in complex problem solutions.

I’m sure the supporting musicians and the inclusion of Rux played a part in the impressive list of sponsors for  Nevabawarldapece.  Moses deserves the support.  But I do keep remembering his Gershwin, Kanbar and Brady Street moments and hope to see some of that early magic reframed with the current dancers.

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