Robert Moses' Kin

February 12, 2003

Bliss Kohlmyer and Amy Foley performed with Robert Moses’ KIN in the new work A Biography of Baldwin: Part I.(Marty Sohl)

Robert Moses’ KIN

Cowell Theater
San Francisco, California

February 12?23, 2003

Reviewed by Rita Felciano

Every year since 1995, when he founded his Robert Moses’ KIN company, the former Twyla Tharp and ODC/San Francisco dancer Robert Moses has taken his choreography into new terrain. If there is a thread to these eclectic travels, it’s the juxtaposition of explicit with more abstract information.

Lucifer’s Prance
(2000) investigated ideas about stasis and motion, weaving concrete images into expansive streams of movement, which ranged from the stately to the wildly airborne. Amy Foley, presumably as a Lucifer figure, tore through every performance with the force of nature unleashed. With last year’s ambitiously designed but loosely constructed Word of Mouth, Moses created his first full-evening work in which he examined the passing of knowledge to a people deprived of formal learning. Layering music, poetry, songs, and common sayings of his own choosing, he created a dense aural environment into which he placed high-strung movement for small units, a choreographic procedure he favors. Both of these works returned during the company’s two-week season this winter.

New this year was the fascinating world premiere A Biography of Baldwin: Part I, in which Moses jammed two types of conversations against each other, one verbal and explicit, the other abstract and kinetic. The impetus for this briskly paced work came from a taped 1961 discussion between writers James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Emile Capouya, and Alfred Kazin. Its subject matter: “The Negro in American Culture.” Moses took his dancers and, like pegs on a board, aligned them into a “L” formation, which he then rotated around the stage. Much as the writers took turns at the mike, the dancers stepped into center space for momentary but intense encounters. The verbal conversation sailed along on an even, almost dispassionate keel, but the dancers’ electric touches, twists, and taps brought to the surface the smoldering passion implicit in such a volatile subject. Biography is still somewhat unwieldy, but its conceit works.

Small bursts of fragmentary movement assignations meandered through the crescendoing soundtrack in the evening’s other world premiere, The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things. However, nothing coalesced.

Also part of this program’s mixed repertoire was the pictorially intriguing Blood in Time (2000), set to Moses’s narrated childhood reminiscences, in which the sequences of a foursome’s arrested movements evoked leafing through a family photo album. Another quartet, the exuberant 3 Quartets for 4 and the Second Is 2 (2001), to Bach’s Concerto No. 5 in F Minor for Harpsichord & Orchestra, flirted with Baroque dance and social patterns but primarily served as a vehicle for the virtuosic Tristan Ching, who flew through her challenging combinations in top spirits and top form.

Moses started out creating dances on himself, and he still was a formidable performer in the three contiguous, not very differentiated solos, one by Alonzo King. More distinguished was the 1997 Doscongio, to Chopin, performed by the tall and willowy Bliss Kohlmyer. Despite some awkward music visualizations, its space-eating patterns, clear visual design, and controlled exuberance make this one of Moses’s most lovable solo works. Kohlmyer inhabited the music as if born to it.