Monday, June 11, 2012

"The BY Series"

Photo: RJ Muna
Robert Moses' Kin
ODC Theater, San Francisco
June 8th, 2012

With a new modern dance program featuring work from four divergent choreographers, Robert Moses' Kin has hit a home run.  "The BY Series"  offered two pieces by Moses - "Helen" (2012) and "Scrubbing the Dog" (work-in-progress) - alongside Ramon Ramos Alayo's "What Happens After you Fall (premiere), Molissa Fenley's "The Vessel Stories" (2011) and Sidra Bell's "Radience & Polarity" (premiere).  Though the dances differed greatly from each other in both scope and structure, there was a common thread that ran through the two hour performance: here was an evening of deconstructed narrative.  While no linear stories were being told, each piece had a very clear and definite conceptual basis and narrative imagery.

A premiere from April, Moses' "Helen" opened the evening.  And with this being my second viewing, I found a renewed sense of the work.  As the cast cycled through the opening moments, there was a sense of calm routine, almost a worshipful meditation (though not religious in any way).  The intensity and speed picked up revealing the complicated notion of idealization.  Putting something or someone on a pedestal never works out well; it is a dangerous, impermanent and precarious place.  This depiction of falseness continued throughout "Helen", with it being most choreographically pronounced in Moses' sliding motif.  As the dancers slid across the stage and in and out of position, it was clear that Moses was commenting on idealization's impermanence. 

The other two compositions in Act I were physical tour de forces featuring the men and women of the company respectively.  "What Happens After You Fall", a world premiere by Ramon Ramos Alayo and danced by Brendan Barthel, Dexandro Montalvo and Victor Talledos, was all about support.  With its complex array of partnering and lifts, Alayo created living sculpture, beautiful and functional at the same time.  His seamless pas de deux and pas de trois sequences featured some very unexpected movements (my favorite was how he had the men gently catching each other by using the foot at the nape of the neck).  This powerhouse athletic piece was a total examination of fall and recovery as well as trust and abandon.  Molissa Fenley's 2011 "The Vessel Stories" had a much more structural focus.  Crystaldawn Bell, Norma Fong, Josie Garthwaite Sadan and Katherine Wells demonstrated the different ways that we can understand the diagonal: in the line of the body, in turns, in staging.  Fenley sought to explore what happens to the diagonal when used in unison, in cannon, when traveled backwards, etc.  Much more balletic than any of the other four offerings, "The Vessel Stories" was danced exceptionally well but the piece itself was far too long and very monotonous.

Act II began with Moses' current work-in-progress "Scrubbing the Dog".  At the April YBCA performance, we were treated to the opening pas de deux from this dance, and I was very excited to see where it had gone since then.  Moses did not disappoint.  I still saw the concept of community in the piece, though now it had a quirkier element to it (in a good way).  The array of different costumes painted an accurate picture of community; nothing geographical, just different individuals existing in the same space.  Yet, as the dance wore on, it was clear that Moses was also bringing our indifference to attention.  As the dancers maintained blank stares, "Scrubbing the Dog" asked whether people in a community really take the time to see and know each other.  Are we willing to be vulnerable and real in order to reach a deeper level of relationship?

"The BY Series" closed with the world premiere of "Radience & Polarity", choreography by Sidra Bell.  Another dance for the four women of the company, "Radience & Polarity" struggled with notions of beauty, strength, seduction, insecurity and power, all from a female perspective.  Bell challenged our assumptions and pre-conceptions surrounding these issues, injecting them with feelings of anger, joy and independence.  Norma Fong danced the lead role and her long expressive torso told an entire story all on its own: a vast physical history and intimate personal experience of one woman. 

I love watching the physical energy and artistic commitment of this company and it was a delight to see them successfully embody so many different choreographic sensibilities.  After their April home season at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, I had noted that the group dynamic seemed a bit off, with some dancers pulling too much focus.  Two months later at this performance, Robert Moses' Kin was a model of cohesiveness; a true collective, working together as a team.

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