Words N Motion
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"Boys and Dancers Take a Fabled Journey"
By Marianne Lipanovich
When myths and fables combine with movement and light, it’s a powerful force. And since fantasy plays a major role in the lives of many preteens and teenagers, it’s only fitting that the San Francisco Boys Chorus joins the collaboration to add its own musical contribution.
The occasion is the premiere of Robert Moses’ Kin dance company’s collaboration titled Fable and Faith.
To say it’s more than just a dance performance is an understatement. Moses and playwright Anne Galjour have worked together to explore, with words and movement, the role that myths and fables have played in our personal lives, as well as in our culture. They’ve added light and video installations by Elaine Buckholtz, who will transform the theater, and musical compositions from Matthew Harris and former Blondie lead guitarist Paul Carbonara.
Taken together, it’s a tribute to imagination, creativity, and identity that should resound with audiences of all ages.
For San Francisco Boys Chorus Director Ian Robertson, it has been a fantastic opportunity. His plan, he says, has always been to expand collaborations with other groups and to take the boys into an unusual and different performing world, rather than simply standing in rows and singing. “We’re singing seven numbers and the boys will be interacting to a degree with the dancers on the stage,” he remarks. “There’s a chance that the boys will be using skateboards and soccer balls in a significant way. It’s what I wanted for the chorus, and I think it will be one of the highlights of the development of the chorus.”
The seven numbers include four songs from Shakespeare’s texts that have been set to music by composer Matthew Harris, plus music from the wedding scene in the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, the spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, and the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem. The latter has especially resonated with his boy singers, Robertson says. “Boys who have been singing with us for years have come up and said that this piece has really touched them.”
Although the program is still a work in process, Robertson waxes enthusiastic about what he’s seen and what it means for his chorus. He calls Moses’ work amazing, marveling at how he takes the rhythms of the music and translates them into body language. And he’s equally amazed at the intricate tapestry Galjour has created of how fable elevates faith.
Overall, he says, “It’s quite a scale of conception. I don’t understand it all yet. It’s quite challenging. It’s very visceral.”
The premiere takes place on Feb. 18 (a gala reception and silent auction is planned for that date, as well), and the production runs two additional nights in the Novellus Theater at the Yerba Buena Center.
Marianne Lipanovich is a writer and editor based in Redwood City. A gardening expert, she is a lifelong music lover, having learned to read music before she learned to read.
Robert Moses is currently working on a new hour-long, full-company work
titled “The Cinderella Principle” for his first self-presented season
at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in February 2010. Here is Robert, speaking
about the ides behind this new work in an interview with Claire
What is the central theme, or focus, of your upcoming
The work is about, I hate to say identity, but it is essentially the notion of the formation of the individual in relationship to opposing groups.
What kind of groups are you looking at?
Families, or groups of people who identify themselves as families: Inter-racial families, inter-generational families, adoptive families, same-gender adoptive families, surrogate families... I’m not sure if these people even see themselves as part of the same category. But you need to ask yourself a large enough question that your assumptions are challenged… a large enough question that it leaves you room to make work…You absolutely need room to do the things that you have to do to make the world what you want it to be. Because that is what you are doing ideally, you are creating a world… that people can look into and leave where they are for a moment…
What draws you to the non-traditional family?
Well, I was at a children’s film festival with my family… and I looked around this huge room and thought, these families don’t look anything like what we are told families are supposed to look like. They certainly don’t look anything like the Brady Bunch! People were significantly older with very young children, there were all the groups of people we were talking about, and probably more… It was interesting. Here were all these very different groups of people, together with their kids and… I wondered if these same groups of people could manage each other in some other situation. In a town hall meeting for instance…
Are you more interested in the internal dynamics of those kinds of
families, or how those families fit within a larger society?
Neither. I’m more interested in how the individual operates from family to identified external group, and how they manage to go back and forth between the two… For example: If your parents are from Venus and Mars and you are from Jupiter… and your parents don’t know anything about Jupiter, but they have adopted you… and all these people from Jupiter say that you are suppose to behave in this way, and your parents idea of a complete person is something else… Then how do you operate with those two conflicting ideas? When possibly you are supposed to identify with the one, but you are growing in this other different way…
I’m not a social scientist and that is not what the piece is about, but it is an interesting question.
You’ll be collaborating with playwright Anne Galjour on this
How do you plan to work together?
Anne suggested that what we really want to do is story circles, where we get people together who are attached in one way or another to the groups we are identifying and we sit around and tell our stories. And from that experience she can start to build text, or if someone allows us, take directly from what that person is saying and use it to build material…
That seems like a really rich source of
Part of it is getting people together who are willing to talk and share. And part of it is getting people together who are not afraid to manage some of their difficulty in front of other people… It is not a therapy session, but there has to be an element of that kind of thing to it. Where you don’t just tell the thing, but say this is the thing, this is how I managed it, this is how I’m feeling about it, this is what I’d like to happen, and this is where I feel like I am with it… And then someone else says something about the thing… And it all starts to rise…
There must be a lot of common ground, people facing the same
issues from different angles.
Yes. I think that there would be some common ground, but sometimes people can be very protective of what might be a tender spot.
You working under the title The Cinderella Principle, could you
explain that title?
The Cinderella Principle… Well, you can think of an individual as something that operates in a different way from society to society or group to group. Much like some historical symbols mean one thing in one society and mean something else in another society. The symbol (or individual) isn’t changing its meaning or its identity, it is simply that different groups relate to it differently.
Look at Cinderella: she’s in this particular situation where she is supposed to fit in, where she should be part of the group, but she is not. Obviously. She isn’t treated the same way. And we understand that this is because she is a stepdaughter, not a biological daughter… What does that mean in the context of that world? And when she leaves [the family] she is able to operate in a very high-end world [of the royalty], in a very spectacular fashion… But that only happens because she has a patron, her godmother, who gives her the tools that she needs to do this... But the godmother is someone who is not attached to either system, she just drops in without anything else attached to her, other than the fact that she is wonderful. There are so many inherent questions…
But this is not the story of Cinderella. This is the story of those children who carry those morals, those symbols, those principles, from place to place. Who have to deal with ideas that are supposed to work but they don’t always work…
And this is only my first treatment of the notion… We’re having this conversation at the very beginning of the process. I haven’t actually gone into the studio, we haven’t actually had any of the story circles, we haven’t actually decided on what the music is, which is a good place because you’re not locked down to anything at this point. So anything is possible.
And everything might change.
Yes. That’s it. Anything is possible, and everything might change. It’s true.
Authored by Emily Hite, 2009
Why taking Robert Moses' class is my favorite way to spend a weekend morning is no trouble to explain. There’s never a day I don’t feel like taking it. Even if I don’t feel like taking it, once we get started with the three opening back exercises, the music drives and it's the greatest pleasure to be moving in a way that involves every part of the body at once in harmony. And I feel fully alive, making full and excellent use of this short time in a human body.
Robert says, “Very simply,” before demonstrating something that could make your brain short-circuit if you didn’t eliminate all distractions and focus on the immediate task, using something like the “fight” mechanism of the “fight or flight” response. You’re thrilled and charged by the co-operation of the mental and the physical, and by the victory of finding an understanding by the third or fourth try (or later when you’ve had some time and living room space to work it out). You’re encouraged by the community of like-minded classmates, and lightened by a “GOOD good good goodgoodgood; NOT…bad” from the instructor.
In Robert’s class, the dancer is both always comfortable and never comfortable. Always free to try something new or risky in your dancing: be carried by movement if your habit is to punch it (and you’re (sometimes) encouraged to “Be late” relative to the music); explode your energy and travel to the other side of the room quicker than you thought possible if you’re used to taking your time; create a fictitious scenario or an invisible partner for a sequence of beautiful, evocative gestures; take liberties you don’t realize you’ve allowed yourself to take until you’re moving and you have. You’re never able to predict what’s coming next. Never able to rely on habits of your training. For instance, some teachers mistake what amount of dancing fits within chosen music, or how a sequence of steps fits together, and those teachers are aided by students who courteously do what they think was really intended. Not Robert. If you notice subtle differences from your expectations, good work; they’ve been put there for you to notice.
The heartening part of the sometimes maddeningly difficult to comprehend sequence is that you see that it’s possible. Caught on camera and slowed down frame by frame, it would be clear as George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco and that awesome. You might recognize the logic before you can understand it. Or, you might mentally understand it before you can physically apply it. Or, you might have a hold of it for a few measures before falling apart from information overload. But you’re always comfortable in the sense that you won’t be embarrassed. Everyone is learning, and having a grand time.
There is a core group of regulars in Robert’s class. Those who come all the time at least have a starting point. Sticking with an idea happens a lot. For several months, and maybe a year, there was a section of class devoted to “walking,” which probably sent the most people practicing down the steps to the BART station. Facing the barre, most of the time you started with two steps back and two steps front before taking off on a high-speed, direction changing, rhythmically complex in 4/4 time ride through space that left you breathless and confused even if you got it right. After months, more variables would be thrown in. Arms would be added. A phrase to be counted in threes would be paired with the 4/4 music. The length of the sequence would double. The phrase would be ever so slightly different from yesterday's, which you had practiced for the rest of the day and ingrained in your memory. There's no relying on experience when confronting a new situation.
All the time you are concentrating on the now now now, what's happening now and maybe just after, is when the part of you that's not controlled by the left brain kicks in the door and breaks through. It's your dancing self. The one that got up and brought you to class, the one what was present when you discovered dancing was what you loved to do. Flow, fly.
Dancing with a partner is sometimes introduced near the end of a class. Everyone always plays both roles in the partnership: the actor of the initial movement phrase, and the responder. That way, you learn to see both sides of an argument. You see how choreography works, how people relate to space and dancers become part of a moving picture that has something specific to do and say. You know that you’re not acting alone, or without consequence to others. There are moments of being led and leading, of reminding and helping and being surprised and frustrated and delighted by how ideas grow in dialogue. Who is this man behind the movement?
One thing about Robert Moses is that he acts like he’s not a big deal. He facilitates everyone’s best dancing in class, offers a structure that addresses technical issues and gives the same high-quality movement combinations and feedback to everyone who shows up. You get the sense that the world is constantly feeding his mind. I imagine Robert’s brain as an information superhighway where fluorescent lasers whiz by in straight lines, bend at 90 degrees, bend again, and continue forever. It’s not uncommon to see him composing music on the computer with one hand, holding a child or two in the other, and reading a dictionary-sized book in front of him. Longtime Kin dancer Katherine Wells is convinced he has a time machine. He has strong interests in African and American history, biography, science fiction, the humor of politicians in disgrace, and, shared with his daughter, YouTube videos of cats. No earthly stimulus seems to escape his attention.
Seeing a Robert Moses’ Kin show, it’s undeniable that each work is loaded with content. Emotion, thought, research, history. All delivered through the medium that it is—dance. The company’s summer workshop title, The Pleasure in Dancing: Motion and Passion, is just as true to form. It is the honest description of why dancers do what they do, and how they can tell stories onstage with or without a narrative. In Robert Moses’ words as in his work there is no pretense of anything, and maybe that’s why everything is possible.