a point: Robert Moses’ Kin.
Politics of Dance
Mae G. Banner
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 16
Robert Moses has something to say. Dancing with his 10-member
company, Robert Moses’ Kin last week at Jacob’s Pillow, he
used a kit-bag of media, especially the spoken word, to underscore
his dance messages.
theatricality was most elaborate in The President’s Daughter
(2005), inspired (incited?) by the relationship of Thomas
Jefferson and Sally Hemings and by the recent disclosure of
the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s similar non-consensual affair
with a black woman.
The choreographer presented the white man’s power and arrogance,
white women’s recriminations and anger, and the abused black
woman’s range of responses through a series of quick vignettes,
tableaus, and blackouts, all fleshed out with period costumes
(Empire waist dresses for the women), voice-over letters and
interviews surrounding the Jefferson-Hemings affair, and a
commissioned jazz score by Darren Johnston. The chief prop
was a white wicker baby carriage, set upstage and ignored
until the final moments of the dance.
In separate vignettes, the tall Jefferson character insisted,
through forceful moves addressed to his wife, that he would
have a concubine if he chose. With Hemings, his force amounted
to rape. She tried unsuccessfully to fight him off. The wife
threw castoff clothes on the floor for Hemings to pick up,
but she let them lie.
A four-woman chorus joined in vocal condemnation of the black
woman, siding with the aggrieved wife. Their chant followed
the notes of the children’s counting-out rhyme, “Eeny meeny
miney mo,” with its familiar melody to, “My mother told me
to choose the very best one . . .”
The Hemings figure danced a wild and prayerful solo with a
cascading series of jumps, turns and falls, then walked deliberately
to put her small bundle (her baby) into the master’s white
wicker carriage. She shook the carriage—and, so, she shook
President’s Daughter is a powerful piece on a reality
that shaped this country and that we try, but cannot hide.
I wanted the dance to be longer, to tell us more.
The San Francisco-based company, founded in 1995, is a sinewy
group that combines modern dance movement with elements of
jazz and lots of athletic power. In Cause, they danced
mutual hostility to a voice-over accompaniment of poems by
Youth Speaks, a local group. There were knee-jabs, upper-cuts,
karate chops and general mix-ups, the women as tough as the
men. A dancer would extend a hand and the gesture would be
categorically rejected. The dance ended in a slow-motion grappling
that promised no resolution.
Similarly, Speaking Ill of the Dead (2006) had women
stepping over the fallen bodies of their men killed in a senseless
war. The voice-over repeated, “We regret to inform you . .
.” and the women refused to acknowledge their loss. As the
men crumpled and the women stepped away, the announcements
broadened: “We regret to inform you of the loss of your husband
. . . your brother . . . your lover . . .” and, finally, the
sucker-punch, “the loss of your liberty.” The entire audience
let out a breath, “Huunhh!” with one voice.
Moses performed a profound solo, Doscongio, (1998)
to music of Chopin. In a charcoal-gray business suit and rosy
red shirt, he created a full-bodied character in whom pressures
and aspirations warred. We needed no voiceovers to understand
the balletic stretch that became a bent back, burdened, with
hands clasped behind; or the repetitions of smooth, jazzy
moves that hardened into heavy-laden downward thrusts.
With his back turned to us, Moses raised an arm high overhead
at a jaunty angle, then let his arm sink toward the ground,
fingers fluttering all the way down. His whole body aspired
to be beautiful, but was propelled into agonized spins, a
thumping slap to the chest, and a head that shuddered. He
put out his hands as if to ward off attack as he stepped away
with bulky grace—so much life pressed into so little space.
Perez-Salas Compania de Danza
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 16
The recent Metamorphoses at Capital Repertory Theatre
thrilled and calmed audiences with the power of water as a
dramatic medium. At Jacob’s Pillow last week, Mexican choreographer
Tania Perez-Salas made water dance under light, made it arc,
sparkle and spray, freeing the audience as it freed the dancers
to leap, splash and plunge, all in formal patterns, their
bodies shining and slippery as eels.
The dance, Waters of Forgetfulness (1998) was part
of Perez-Salas’ Compania de Danza’s Pillow debut. Like all
her dances, it was assertively theatrical, extending the language
of the body through music and special effects. (The other
dances, Hours (2001) and Anabiosis (2000) used
such devices as three women’s bodies sharing one enormous
textured floor-length skirt, fragments of nude bodies set
in a vertical frame that looked like a film strip, huge red
velvet curtains that buried the dancers, and lots of dry ice
fog. All imparted a larger-than-life expressiveness and an
air of impenetrable mystery.)
was glorious. Women arose from the stage-wide pool glistening,
as if emerging from a cocoon. Dancers did yoga moves to East
Indian chants, flinging their arms and legs, arching their
backs. The water shone and sounded, sometimes like thunder.
The piece ended with a sudden fall of beach sand, a curtain
of brown grains that masked the dancers.
A note: Later that afternoon, I saw the Waters costumes
hanging to dry on a clothesline behind the theater. It was
a lovely happenstance that reconnected the surreal with the
human quality of dance.