A dancer takes center stage in the Studio Theater on Lone Mountain. Instead of music to accompany the dancer, the audience hears a recorded voice saying, “We are offended by empty rooms.” However, there was nothing offensive about this packed theater on April 7, as Performing Arts and Social Justice (PASJ) students and faculty were greeted with a performance from Robert Moses’ KIN (RMK).
RMK is an internationally renowned dance company based in San Francisco. Their work deals with issues of race, class, culture, and gender, and has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle.
This performance was in part designed to give PASJ students an introduction to RMK Founder and Artistic Director, Robert Moses, an acclaimed Bay Area artist who will be guest lecturing at USF in fall 2022.
Moses’ group presented what he calls a “Lights and Tights” performance. The free, scaled back performance had dancers in rehearsal clothing, with bare lighting design. Following the half-hour show, audience members were invited to an informal Q&A. The causal nature of the showing worked to foster Moses’ introduction.
“It makes sense in a smaller, more intimate setting, that it doesn’t have all of the traditional trappings of performance,” Moses said. “None of the pieces were more than 10 minutes long, and none involved more than four dancers.”
The program began with the dance piece, “A History of This Moment.” The opening line, “‘We are offended by empty rooms,’ has taken on a double meaning in COVID,” Moses said. “For a dancer, that is something very specific. It’s the central, visceral, life of being in a room. For someone who is going through what the whole world has been going through the last few years, it has become thinking about all the places where you’re not.”
“It also has to do with not having a presence in certain rooms,” he said. “If you’re not in that room and you should be, if you’re a woman, or person of color, or person of a particular orientation, the room is still empty if you believe you should be there and you’re not.”
A goal for Moses is making space for marginalized groups in these rooms of prominence. This is work that he will be bringing to his courses next semester, when he will be teaching African American Performance and Culture and an Interdisciplinary PASJ lab.
With his extensive background in teaching, Moses will bring great experience to USF this fall. In addition to his classes at RMK and at surrounding dance studios, he was Stanford University’s choreographer-in-residence, Santa Clara University’s professor of practice, and Mills College’s visiting professor.
He has worked for USF before, as he choreographed a dance entitled “If These Corpses Were Poems, Would We Then Remember? (A Further Investigation),” in 2021 for PASJ’s Fall Concert.
Grace Shaver, a junior PASJ major with a dance concentration, was involved with a cast of 10 for Moses’ piece. “Robert’s work is wonderful and his dancers are always exceptional,” she said. Enrolled in his PASJ lab course, she said, “I’m so excited that he will be teaching a class in the fall, and I look forward to learning from him.”
The interdisciplinary lab is particularly important to Moses. He is generally renowned as a dancer and choreographer, but he admits his work is much more than that.
“The interdisciplinary collaboration and performance workshop is going to do what I’ve been doing for the entire time that I’ve been making work. I make music and dance; I write, direct, and work with video and film. I do all of those things, which in one way or another, sort of lead to another,” Moses said.
His other class, African American Performance and Culture, will be open to non-PASJ students and consist of conversations with up and coming Black artists.
Moses noted that in higher education, “You hear something in class and you take away all the basics,” he said. “But, what happens is a year later, or two years later, something bubbles up and you go, ‘I understand this, because I’ve already been through this manner of thinking, and I know how to move it forward in my own way now.’ So, what I hope students get from working with me is a certain kind of proficiency in managing their own inclination, ideas, and motivations.”