Molissa Fenley and Company

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Dance Flash: Robert Moses on His New-Yet-Not-Really-New "The BY Series"
Becca Klarin, SF Appeal
May 25, 2012

Robert Moses connects intelligent movement effortlessly with sheer, liquid ribbons and a tad bit of sticky tape. Watching his dances as they move across the stage, you might wonder how "that" just happened. Where did that airy lift or split-second change of direction come from? How did his dancers moved just like so, creating such a fantastic arc or allow for an unexpected--yet welcome--pause to seamlessly form in the middle of all that organized, forward-pushing chaos?

What: Robert Moses' Kin presents The BY Series

Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St. at Shotwell, SF

When: June 7-9, 8PM; June 10, 2PM; June 14-16, 8PM; June 17, 2PM

Tickets: $25 online

And now, as his company has just celebrated its 17th annual home season here in San Francisco, Moses is reaching out beyond his more familiar constructs to formally weave other choreographers into his company's folds with Robert Moses' Kin's The By Series, which kicks off June 7th with two weekends of works by guest choreographers Molissa Fenley, Ramon Ramos Alayo, and Sidra Bell, along with a new piece by Moses himself.

I spoke with Moses about this new series.

The By Series: it's a new project for you. What inspired you to start this?

You know, in a way, sort of piecemeal, it's been going on for a long time. I've been asking choreographers, as we've been able to, to come in and make work on the company, but we haven't really solidified it until now. In the beginning of the work of the company, we did a lot of collaboration and letting people come in and work off their ideas and do their work... Which is tough to keep it going in some type of consistent way. We just really made a commitment now to make it an annual thing, and to give people at different stages of their careers and places in their choreographic life a chance to make work.

What's different is it's concentrated; it's not one person on the evening. It's the company that's been working with me for years, that has my imprint on them, doing other people's work. So not only do you get to see the work that I'm making and what others are doing, but you get to how see the dancers who are so adept at what I do face the challenges of someone else's work.

Did I answer your question or did I go off on a tangent?

No, you definitely did! How did you chose to work with Molissa, Sidra, and Ramon?

Molissa's work has a really deceptively simple elegance to it. And it's not at all! If you look at the vocabulary, you might think it's simple, but if you look at the actual work, it's extraordinarily complex. I watched her final rehearsal (that she's actually in town for) last week. I'd seen the piece on tape, but not live. What I tend to do is leave the work and let people work so that they don't feel the pressure of me breathing down their necks. And I was so blown away by the complexity of the choreography and what's she's doing.

Sidra is just a really interesting choreographer who can twist a phrase and turn movement and make it interesting. And Ramon is a longtime member of the company. We have a common notion of how work should be, even though our work is nothing alike. His comes from his Cuban roots and mine, of course, is not Cuban; it's American. But this idea of having some visceral connection to the audience; it's not purely intellectual. So I chose them because their distinctly different choreographers.

And you're also premiering "Scrubbing the Dog" of this program.

Yes.

How did you decide to focus your own piece on the scrub nature of how meanings change over time?

I think this evolved from some of the work that I've done previously that had to do with fairy tales and ideas about who we are and who we're supposed to be. Those kinds of ideas. There are fairy tales that are in books and there are fairy tales that we put in our own lives in a real way about ourselves and other people. There are things that we erase and the things that we hold on to. Sometimes we don't know what those things are. Maybe if you take a little peak back at them, it might make them a little clearer.

Are there things that changed over time--or as you were creating this work--that opened up your mind about your past...

What I found is how difficult it is to pin something down because there's no one moment when history is frozen. There's no one moment when things were perfectly clear in terms of it's here and it's going to move to this direction or it's there... It doesn't work that way. What is clear to me is that this is difficult to pin down. The clearest thing to me is it's a little tough.

As The BY Series has become official, I'm curious about your teaching. You work as a teacher at Stanford among other places. Does this project affect the way you mentor and engage with your students?

Absolutely. As you mature--I'll put it that way--what you'll find is that the references that you have for yourself become more and more distant from the people that you're teaching. So I started teaching at Stanford nearly 20 years ago, and if I ever made a comment about something that happened five years previous to the time that I started teaching, now that's nearly 25 years ago (well, not that long, but so...).

The touchstones for people's relationships to those things is different, and that means that in a lot of ways, I need to remain current with what the students are interested in. In that way, it helps me moving forward but in some ways, they keep changing while I stay the same. The gap is widening! One year I'm 30 and they're 18. And the next year, I'm 31 and they're 18, and then I'm 39 and they're still 18. So that scrubbing the dog thing and their ideas of race or sexuality or gender: it shifts.

I have to admit: I was a grad student at Stanford about eight or nine years ago, and I took two of your classes: technique and choreography [Ah! The truth comes out!]. In choreography, I found your direction to be very open and broad. Some professors I had had before focused on the minutiae, and I enjoyed hearing your opinion of not needing to explain yourself or allowing the audience to take in what they take. I really appreciated hearing that voice.

You know, you give people the chance and they'll get there on their own. Have a little faith.

What makes the ideal dancer for you?

The ideal dancer for me is an individual who knows himself, is an adult. You go into the room and you say something to them, and, they can manage it, they can handle it, and they give you something back that isn't just the thing that you gave them. No one wants a robot--not really--even if someone's dancing in a corps of a ballet company. They want you to be together with folks, but not a robot. So for me it's people who are expressive, people who can take charge of themselves, and can do more with what you've given them than what you did giving it to them.

We can talk about textbook stuff, but that's not really the truth.

When you were creating "Scrubbing the Dog," were your dancers part of the process or did you create it separately? How did you move it forward?

Oh, it's always different! Sometimes the dancers are involved and sometimes they're not. I'm still in the process of creating it, so I'm still finding ways of trying to get the ideas out. It depends; sometimes I come in with movement, sometimes we work together with generating movement.

Was there anyone who really mentored you as a choreographer?

I think that everybody that I've had the opportunity to work with or whose work I've seen. We get affected greatly by things we see and the things that we sort of attach to in terms of what our proclivities are, things that touch us. So there are choreographers who I've never met or who I've worked with over extended periods of time who have had influence on me. But ideally what you want to do is shed that and use it like you might use any other tool to begin to develop your own voice.

You mentioned that your choreographic process is always different. How do you know when the work is done? How do you know when you're finished?

I think when you start to break it! You can be working on something without recognizing that you're done. Work for a few more days and look and say there was something about this that was working and now I don't understand what's happening. I think it's broken. I need to go back. Either go to what it was and see if I've overdone it. It's overcooked.

But sometimes it's just the clock. You've got three days to finish this, and you need to craft this out and move it forward that way....Sometimes we don't get to finish it and then sometimes, if you have a little bit of luxury, time comes and you have a bit of a moment to go back and remake it as if it was done.

So how are you feeling right now as you're still in flux with "Scrubbing the Dog"?

Ha! I can't talk about that yet!

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