Friday, May 15, 2015


Robert Moses’ Kin
Forum at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
May 14th, 2015

Dregs, grounds, deposit, sediment. These are just some of the many synonyms for the term silt. The material that is left over; the substance that remains. Robert Moses has chosen this penetrating concept for his latest contemporary dance. With its reflective nature and investigative questions, SILT is a marvelous beginning to Robert Moses’ Kin’s twentieth anniversary season. 

Pictured: Brendan Barthel & Norma Fong
Photo: RJ Muna 
As we entered the YBCA Forum space, we were greeted by the company dancers and guided through a set of center stage mobiles, strings of beads hanging from each. This was a curious feeling; light and mystical but also with an awareness that you were walking through something heavy, something significant. After everyone had traveled this airy yet viscose path, the world premiere of SILT  began. The company of fourteen took their opening positions at the back of the room and initiated a set of pulsating, repetitive movements. At first, they traveled forward together but then broke out into the periphery. This dynamic of scattering and re-arranging into new configurations would inform the entire evening. Just like sediment; just like silt. 

SILT was spatially immersive, in every way imaginable. We (the audience) were encouraged to move about the space as the dance developed, interacting with the performers and with those around us. Of late, I’ve attended a number of performances that engaged this ‘mobile viewer’ model. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Here it not only worked, it flourished. The YBCA Forum was built for this style of dance installation; everyone was all in, completely behind the concept. This audience ownership, if you will, meant that you decided what scenes to watch, how long to watch them, where to move next. And in turn, noticed what would catch your eye, what would keep your attention and what would draw you in. At the same time, there were scenes that were completely obscured from your view, no matter where you moved. So as an audience member, you also had to contend with the idea of not always getting what you wanted. With us all co-habitating and co-existing in a shared space, the dancer’s deportment also varied, from inviting and soothing all the way to confrontational.

Bodies dispersed unpredictably, all over the space. Dancing bodies; watching bodies. SILT was up close and personal and had an exciting undercurrent of unpredictability. We didn’t know where the dancers would go next, and they also didn’t know when we would move or where we would sit or stand. With circumstances in constant flux, a true ‘in-the-moment’ contemporary dance performance evolved. So of course, everyone’s SILT experience was different. From the various vignettes I witnessed, here are a few highlights.

A recurring swimming motif appeared in several of the solos, duets and group sequences. This rippling movement was delicate but also had a weight to it, bringing back the sense of our initial entrance through the hanging bead structures. These panels figured prominently in the work, and some of my favorite moments were when dancers stood amongst and amidst the beads, waiting. Suspension literally and figuratively hung in the air, and I was transfixed watching the living statues abiding within the beads.

A long line of dancers traveled towards a staircase with a series of step, plié, back attitude. They exited the main floor, climbed the stairs and proceeded to dance above us, against the grid-like ceiling squares. The movements spoke of desperation but the statement was delightfully ambiguous - were they trying to connect, or trying to retreat? As spotlights appeared all over the floor, the company continued to engage with the audience, handing out cell phones and speakers as they approached each pool of light. A swirling, movement phrase unfolded (at least where I was standing) full of off-center pirouettes and fanning arms and legs. Near the end of SILT, most, though not all, of the dancers receded to the side wall for a moment of repose, which then fed into a collection of individual solos– grounded, funky phrase material abounding all over the room. The repetitive body pulses returned to signal that the end of the piece was near. And then, the brilliant seventy-five minute exposition closed - the dancers gathered the hanging beads, shook them and then released their grasp, almost like the end of a ritual.

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