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Brief Encounters with Robert Moses’ Kin

San Francisco-based Robert Moses’ Kin presented a varied lineup at Meany Studio Theatre as part of the UW World Series on May 20-31. For the evening’s finale, artistic director and choreographer Robert Moses invited 16 UW students, alumni, and local Seattle dancers to join his company of eleven in Draft, the culmination of a six-day residency process. Each dancer had only an hour with Moses and artistic associate Todd Eckert in order to showcase his or her talents and skills. The dancers and choreographer collaborated to structure the solos generated in these “brief encounters” during tech rehearsals only the day before opening night. Moses has been creating these projects in different locations since 2006 for the dual purposes of providing an incubator for ideas and “celebrating the communities in which they are performed.”

RMK 2 (photo by RJ Muna)
Robert Moses’ Kin
Photo by RJ Muna

The somber Speaking Ill of the Dead opened the program. Set to gospel music laced with Latin percussive rhythms, the music incorporated text reminiscent of “We regret to inform you…” letters written to grieving families after the deaths of their loved ones. Drawing upon themes of war casualties and loss, the dancers executed chopping arm movements along with recognizable jazz steps, all accomplished with brisk technical precision. Four men threw themselves to the floor in a long corridor of light as if shot, a female dancer rolled their corpses over with a toe, and they flopped onto their backs with a splat. While the piece’s theme, a comment on human sacrifice and loss, shone through the choreography and music, the dancers’ faces were blank, their eyes distant, allowing the formal elements of the content to do the work for them.

Excerpts from NEVABEAWARDPECE lacked the thematic cohesion of the first piece but showcased the technical prowess of soloists Katherine Disenhof and Crystaldawn Bell. The two women juxtaposed quick, abstract hand gestures with balletic lower body articulations such as crisp attitude turns and dévelopés. The company dancers walked slowly and exaggeratedly in a progressional line, watching the soloists. While the costumes of T-shirts and cargo pants and classical guitar music by Woody Simmons suggested a casual, conversational feel, the overall purpose of these excerpts remained unclear.

RMK 1 (photo by RJ Muna)edit
Robert Moses’ Kin
Photo by RJ Muna

Guest choreographer and UW MFA alumna Bliss Kohlmyer created Snapshots of Longing on Jackie Goneconti and Victor Talledos. This yearning love duet featured more innovative contemporary movement vocabulary and bare feet, a refreshing departure from the jazz shoes and ballet slippers of the previous piece. Reaching for each other’s faces and pulling away with anguish, the dancers created interesting patterns invading the negative space between limbs, and transitioned in and out of the floor seamlessly. At first, the female dancer denied her lover, but over time the dynamic between them shifted to the opposite pole in a clearly developed arc throughout the work.

After intermission, 808 Kick Revisited provided a visual treat choreographed by guest Gregory P. Dawson, a former dancer with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Dawson’s contemporary ballet aesthetic sensibility flattered the dancers’ sculpted musculature and clarity of shape. This work highlighted the dancers’ technical expertise; they seemed to levitate during sections of floorwork. A duet between two petite women (Norma Fong and Goneconti) showcased their remarkable strengths in partnering. Disenhof’s ease and control stood out again in a featured moment. Jeremy Bannon-Neches’ huge jumps ate up the space, but his performance would have benefitted from similar expression carried into the face.

The final piece of the evening, Draft, began with the guest dancers from the community standing in a huge circle facing inward, wearing a collection of bright tank tops, black pants and leggings, and the dancer’s choice of either socks or bare feet. As the dancers advanced through their personal solos, sometimes overlapping with each other slightly and presenting an opportunity for short interactions between small groups, the company members interjected themselves into the circle to perform longer and noticeably more developed solos of their own. The community dancers’ solos highlighted movement that they each seemed most comfortable with, from hip hop to voguing, from modern to African dance. Although the dancers performed some phrases in unison, the piece read just as the pre-show speech had suggested, not as a piece but as a window into an ongoing process. For this reason, the work seemed out of place in a program of finished pieces set on professional company dancers. However, if Draft projects from other cities could come together, they could be polished into a stimulating final product.

Robert Moses’ dancers’ greatest strength lies in their versatility. The selection of pieces transcended genre, running the gamut from classical jazz to contemporary ballet and contemporary modern. At some points during the varied lineup, the dancers looked like they were just trying to get through the action-packed choreography, rather than feeling the details and initiations as second nature. A few transcendent sparks of energy would have made for a truly captivating evening, in which the audience could live through the thrilling enjoyment shown through the dancers’ physicality and faces.

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