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Robert Moses' Kin poised for 'Helen' S.F. premiere
Mary Ellen Hunt, SF Chronicle
March 29, 2012

Photo © Siana Hristova / The Chronicle

Robert Moses (center) will do a June series with choreographers Ramon Ramos Alayo (left) and Molissa Fenley.

Underneath choreographer Robert Moses' urbane, composed exterior, you can almost feel the frothing intellectual energy of a mind always in motion. A conversation with Moses can range from sociopolitical ground, through poetry, and into music, art and philosophy with such ease that you wonder how he has time to think about all of this, as well as create new work for his 10-member company, Robert Moses' Kin, teach at Stanford University, raise his young kids with fellow choreographer and dancer Mary Carbonara, and still have time to sleep.

"Actually, I don't really sleep a lot," he says. "Now, I tend to go to bed when the kids go to bed at around 8:30, and I'm usually up by 1. Then I'm up and down through the evening, listening to music or writing, sometimes I'll just sit and consider stuff. I'm really up about 5, which is when my day gets going with other people because 5 a.m. is 8 a.m. in other places."

Do his best ideas come overnight?

"Nooooo!" he says ruefully, "I think my best ideas come over time. But I clarify, I get rid of things overnight. I will never show anyone what I've written between the hours of one and five - it's always sort of just spewing. But sometimes what happens is I'll pick up a notebook with something I've written eight years ago and think I want to try this idea."

And he certainly doesn't lack ideas. Robert Moses' Kin opens its 17th season this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, with the premiere of "Helen," a meditation on womanhood and possession that Moses says takes flight to the rhythms of Carl Hancock Rux's spoken-word essays and E. Ethelbert Miller's poetry, with nods to Helen of Troy.

Along with "Helen," RMK will show excerpts from a longer work titled "Scrubbing the Dog," as well as three older works that he describes as personal favorites, "The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things," "Speaking Ill of the Dead," and his fascinating tribute to writer James Baldwin, "Biography."

This year RMK is adding a second season in June, the "By" Series, comprised of a smaller, more intimate set of performances at ODC Theater. Not only will it give the company more onstage time, Moses has also extended an offer to three other choreographers to set their own work on the company in a kind of "RMK performs work by" program.

The mix includes East and West Coast artists, as well as emerging and established choreographers. Renowned New York choreographer Molissa Fenley will restage "The Vessel Stories" to the music of Philip Glass for the company, and emerging talent Sidra Bell and former RMK dancer Ramon Ramos Alayo will each craft new pieces.

"It's folks whose work I respect, and people I respect," Moses says simply of his choices.

"I was very pleased that Robert asked me for something," says the energetic Fenley, who teaches in the spring at Mills College and then returns to work with her own company in New York in the summer. "It's actually the first time that anyone here in California has asked me to make a piece on their company. The nice thing about Robert's work is that it's completely night and day from mine. I think that's really great because we'll use the dancers in a very different way and showcase them in a different way."

New York-based Bell was a little more surprised, but no less pleased, to get a call from Moses asking her to meet with him.

"Sidra's work has a kind of a vitality to it that you have when you have no fear," chuckles Moses. "She is not at all hindered by the notion of compromise and I really respect that."

For the "By" Series Moses has also tapped Cuban-born former company member Ramon Ramos Alayo, who danced with RMK for nine years before founding his own company and launching the CubaCaribe Festival.

"My style is very Afro Cuban modern," says Alayo, who in addition to choreographing a new piece, will also reprise his role in "Biography" during the March season. "I like doing new pieces for other companies because it's fresh people, fresh ideas, and they don't yet know the way I want them to move."

Giving the RMK dancers that variety of experience is precisely what Moses is hoping the new "By" Series will accomplish.

"And then I will get the benefit of dancers who've had a break from me," he laughs. "I have my own notions about the way things go, and the way the world should be, but I have enough flexibility in my worldview to know that that's not the only way to be."

All of that comes later, after the Yerba Buena season and a tour to Los Angeles. And already, Moses is looking ahead to the company's first tour to India and a residency at Stanford in the fall.

"We're busy and moving forward," he says thoughtfully, "We've been an arts organization and now we're trying to move into that place where we become the institution that I think people in some ways expect us to be, but while still maintaining a sense of who we are."

This article appeared on page F-5 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

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