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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Robert Moses KIN presents 2023 Presidio Home Season March 24-26, 2023, Presidio Theater, SF

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

We live in a time when the teaching of African-American history is once again, or perhaps still, contentious, vulnerable, dangerous and essential. We read the heartbreaking news that the College Boards, having finally created a curriculum for Advanced Placement African American Studies, has bowed to conservatives, by removing teachings about critical race theory from the course.


Writer, composer and choreographer Robert Moses uses his platform as the Founder and Artistic Director of dance company Robert Moses’s KIN to teach us a bit of African American history and to inspire us to learn more. For their 2023 Home Season, presented at the Presidio Theater, Moses offers a tryptic of powerful pieces that speak to the African American experience. The text that accompanies or precludes each piece is supported by the dancing of the ten company members.


On the twentieth anniversary of its premiere, Moses revisits Biography (2003), performed to audio excerpts from discussion entitled “The Negro in American Culture,” (1961) featuring Black writers James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry alongside two White writers.


Arranged in lines within rectangles of light, the dancers are constantly moving, straining against the orderly pattern. Three or four at a time break formation to spin, leap, or kick before briefly returning to line. We hear Baldwin say, “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time.” The dancing continues, the power of the narrative finds me looking for symbolism in the movement: is that dancer dodging things? Does the gesture bringing two fingers to the mouth and then the temple represent words or thoughts? Moses doesn’t answer all of our questions but gives us much to reflect upon.


Several dancers help shape the bodies of the other dancers into forms. A familiar side lounging silhouette is arrived at through strange contortions. The dancers’ bodies balance on the tips of elbows, rather than resting comfortably on forearms. Their legs are twisted and held tight to maintain the shape, rather than lying casually atop each other. It may look relaxed to the casual viewer but the physical price of maintaining the form is high.


The piece ends with Crystaldawn Bell isolated and objectified center stage. Her feet seem anchored to the floor as she struggles against her bonds with wrists married, as if cuffed. Her knees cave toward each other. The others stand in groups gazing at her. During the pause between pieces, I feel the weight of how little has truly changed for Black artists in America in the past sixty years.


The experience of Can I Keep Just One? (2023) is heart wrenching. A live dancer, Crystaldawn Bell, performs a poetic full-stage solo in front of a video narration. On the screen, a woman, the character of Cora, regards us. She is unflinching as she tells her tale. Her face fills the backdrop, dwarfing Bell.

Crystaldawn Bell at bows for Can I Keep Just One? part of Robert Moses's KIN Home Season 2023; Phot0: J. Norris


Cora tells us about her children, as Bell contracts around her womb. Two of Cora’s sons were sold, their whereabouts unknown, but she’s proud to know her daughter Sara works in a big house close by. Bell rubs her heart, her other arm bent as if taking a pledge. Cora describes the awe and love she feels for her new baby boy, as Bell’s outstretched hands jerk almost imperceptibly. Cora describes rocking her baby, kissing his feet, and running into the woods with him. Kudos to Monica C. Moses credited with writing the monologue, filming and directing the video actress, Lena, and collaborating with Bell and Robert Moses on the choreography of this emotional and memorable piece of dance theater.


Fugitive Literacies (premiere) conceived, written and choreographed by Robert Moses is “titled after” Jarvis R Givens’s book, “Fugitive Pedagogies.” My pre-show search indicates the Givens book speaks to how Black educators, especially those in the Jim Crow South, worked together, sometimes covertly, to fight against the “mis-education of the Negro.”


As we begin Moses is seated onstage, hemmed in by curtains. He reads aloud a story of a boy and his ideas, sharing that “ideas line the corners of the mind,” “all ideas are related,” essentially “all ideas are kin.” The boy gets to meet different ideas including freedom, choice, patriotism, deceit, “war and peace, who didn’t get along,” and independent thought, “oh what a pain independent thought was.” The story is fascinating, enigmatic, winsome and wise. I wish a link to it was provided.


As he concludes, the curtains part and the projected image of a small ball of cells? a flower? a sea sponge? hovers in a dark void. A solo dancer with liquid arms carves through space, as a comforting warm light fills the sky and the glowing mass grows, perhaps representing knowledge. Fugitive Literacies unfolds in chapters. Each has its own mood, evoked through the introduction of new music and video-scape. Video Designer Sean McLeod creates a wide range of computer-generated images, moving us from a cool foggy forest, to a space dominated by horizontal energy lines and on to a pulsing primary-colored landscape.

The dancers move with grace and purpose in large ensemble sections and in many solo and duet moments. One section, performed to a commanding drumline, features a fast-moving octet of performers swiveling their hips in unison, slapping down on spread thighs as they jump. A new idea arrives and the mood shifts from urgent to ethereal. Amidst dreamy female choir vocals, two women work cooperatively to duck under their joined arms. A discussion in movement is taking place.


I enjoyed the freedom of reflecting on the initial reading while following the dancers on their journey through wonderland, where all ideas are related. Some get along better than others, relationships between ideas can lift each other, or one can generate another, but all ideas deserve room to breathe and be investigated. All people must be given the time, information and freedom to think. The evening is an education for some, a reminder for others, that we are not individually truly free until all are free.

Review by Jen Norris, published March 25, 2023

Crystaldawn Bell, Monica C. Moses and Robert Moses (L to R) during Q&A 2023 Presidio Theater; Photo: J. Norris

_____________________________________________________

Production Credits

Dancers

Crystaldawn Bell, Vincent Chavez, Iva Dixson, Jenelle Gaerlan, Z Jackson, Kaia Makihara, Elena Martins, Whitney Ross, Nick Wagner, Juliann Witt


BIOGRAPHY (2003)

Choreography - Robert Moses

Lighting Design - Allen Willner

Text - Archival interviews by permission Pacifica Radio archives with participants

James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Langston Hughes, Emile Capouya and Alfred Kazin

Dancers - The Company

Can I Keep Just One? (2023)

Writer and Director - Monica C. Moses, MSW

Movement Collaboration - Crystaldawn Bell and Robert Moses

Lighting Design - Allen Willner

Dancer - Crystaldawn Bell

Video Credits:

Writer and Director - Monica C. Moses, MSW

Starring - Lena

Director of Photography - Benjamin B. Neate

Production Assistant - Lil Sawyer

"Can I Keep Just One?" is an excerpt of Cora which was featured in Monica’s Urban Noir Project “From Slavery to the White House". “From Slavery to the White House” chronicles the journey of African American Folks from the shores of the slave ships to the fight for freedom, to the civil rights movement onto the election of the first African American President.

Fugitive Literacies (2023) *Titled after “Fugitive Pedagogies” by Jarvis R Givens

Conception/Choreography/Text - Robert Moses

Lighting Design - Allen Willner

Video Design - Sean McLeod: the New York Institute of Dance & Education

Music - Blood and Strings ft. Cicely Parnas Z, Young Rich Pixies, Kyle Preston, Kristian Sensini, Funkadelic, My Attitude, and Robert Moses

Dancers - The Company

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