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The Good Word 

One dance uses gospel, hip hop, and prison songs; the other no music at all

Wednesday, Feb 12 2003
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Robert Moses didn't create the dance pieces Word of Mouth and A Biography of Baldwin especially for Black History Month, but their timing is apt nonetheless. The Bay Area-based choreographer, a self-proclaimed "history geek," is reviving the former and premiering the latter (the first part of a larger work) for his 12-member troupe, Robert Moses' Kin; both explore elements of African-American experience, if from seemingly opposite angles.

Word of Mouth is set to a pastiche of gospel, hip hop, jazz, prison songs, and old-school funk. Ostensibly about the oral tradition in African-American culture, the piece is propelled by its music. Moses, a former Twyla Tharp dancer, has created a technically challenging, emotionally nuanced suite of dances, which his company members handle with aplomb. Word samples African and social dance, club-kid styles, and the sleek, precise modernity for which Moses' own performances are known.

Baldwin, on the other hand, uses no music at all. A tribute to author James Baldwin, it was inspired by a 1961 tape recording of him discussing "The Negro in American Culture" with fellow writers Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry. Moses set Baldwin against the conversation itself, using the rhythms of speech as his accompaniment. The piece debuts with another premiere, The Soft Sweet Smell of Firm Warm Things, an abstract work about new relationships set to an original score by Moses' Stanford colleague Jonathan Norton, along with repertory work, in- cluding a suite of solo dances created by local choreographers.

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Heather Wisner

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