by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
Moses, the prophet and religious warrior who led the Jews out of bondage is the subject of Reggie Wilson’s Moses(es)- the (es) refers to his concept of considering him from different cultural perspectives. Wilson, based in New York, is a cultural anthropologist as well as choreographer, and he alternates impressions of Moses(s) from the Africanist Diaspora as well as what he describes as the post/African Neo/HooDoo modern dance
His company files onstage, one by one, introducing themselves to the audience and say where they are from (Jamaica, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Trinidad, US, et. al) and how long they have been with the troupe, which ranges from 8 weeks to 20 years. The name ‘Fist and Heel Performance Group’ alludes to the shocking history of a time when slaves were forbidden to play drums by slave-owners.
The direct source for retelling the Moses(s) leading slaves out of Egypt is from Harlem Renaissance writer Nora Zeal Hurston’s book ‘Moses Man of the Mountain.’ Some opening passage of the dancers, dressed in red togs, tunics, or dresses filing onstage through a mound of parted silver garland, (to represent the parting of the Red Sea), cluster in the corner upstage as Wilson gathers up the garland and packs in it a suitcase. The visuals give it a certain editorial, though cryptic pageantry.
Louis Armstrong’s raucous blues gospel version of “Go Down Moses” is the soundtrack. Armstrong tells the story in a jaunty New Orleans vamp, but no less effectively, does the refrain “Let my people go“ sound is a rallying cry for freedom. There are Hassidic songs and contemporary liturgical songs in the mix, but most compelling are Wilson’s own vocalizing the narrative in ’call and response’ spirituals with the dancers.
Wilson, compellingly, incorporates movement images of from his research of indigenous, mixed cultural dance from his travels in Egypt, Turkey, Israel. How the choreographer uses fusion is most compelling, but, for me, too fragmented in a 70 minute work. Choreographically, the breakout solos, where dancers in express more personal, free dance, seemed too abbreviated, is the strongest thread in the piece..
Ultimately, though, Moses(s) has the feel of a middle draft work, with Wilson’s choreography not showing enough variation for such a big theme. It seems packed with narrative intent, but plods under its own heady context to really take off.
Out of Time
A virtuoso in Irish step and highland dance from childhood, Colin Dunne examines and dismantles his dance past with both a jaundiced eye and complete reverence in his masterful hour long solo Out of Time. Dunne, former star of the Riverdance phenomenon, celebrates the highland kicks, gigs. Without taking any cheap shots, he basically flat-lines the bravado that made Michael Flatley the vaunted Lord of the Dance.
Dunne has much more to artistically offer as he goes to the roots and cultural dna of high stepping and shows us his artistic journey, with pride and poetry. He enters barefoot makes this a primal expression in many ways. In his deconstruction he shuts down the signature piston drive of the legs in slo-mo. He lets it look fluid, and his bare feet are out to show their suppleness, liberated from those mental clogs.
Later his mimics the moves of star steppers from the 20s & 30s, that are projected on his modular risers. One segment has him as a 10 year old sweating out an interview on national television about his international win. Even after he stops dancing he stands at rigid attention. He moves to the side of the stage to take a drink of water and change his shirt, while he sportingly lets the audience watch. He demonstrates the precision of the ‘hornpipe’ phrase and hammers out ‘bangers and sausages’ the mind numbing metronomic mantra of the time-signatures highland technique.
He then demonstrates the genre’s side-show restrictions of step competitions , the winners can dance on plates and the mocks the monotony of the some of the step vocabulary. He puts on his dance shoes, taps mini mikes to the instep and dances patterns on a four by six mat. His virtuosity is present, but not showy, he invests in precision and undecorated technique.
Some of the phrasing is a fusion of highland, flamenco and tap. His shirt is drenched at the end of it. His exploration is into undecorated purity of his Riverdance roots and at 35 he is ready to embrace the techniques and skills to another level of expression.
The end section we see his liberated moves as he incorporates full arm movement within traditional steps and one point undulating his torso in hilariously (it looked like the frug) defiance of Riverdance choreography. The sense of body liberation from rigid technique is palatable. This is an engaging dance memoir, not to mention a witty and thrillingly sustained performance.