Dance Cast S01E02: Robert Moses

Sima Belmar
Feb 15 · 27 min read
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Robert Moses with Crystaldawn Bell in rehearsal. Photo by Steve Disenhof. “Do I believe what artists have to say? Depends on if they are honest or not.” — Robert Moses

Welcome to the second episode of Dance Cast, featuring Robert Moses, Artistic Director of Robert Moses’ Kin. Dance Cast is a podcast dedicated to critical conversations around all genres of dance. It’s for dance insiders, dance lovers, and the dance curious. ODC Writer in Residence Sima Belmar (that’s me) talks with choreographers, dancers, educators, designers, presenters, bodyworkers, journalists and scholars about dance theories and practices of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

S01 E02 Transcript

00:00:00 Sima Belmar

I’m gonna hit record.

00:00:03 Robert Moses

You’re becoming now a technical genius of the zoom meeting type.

00:00:10 Sima Belmar

That’s right, I’m working on it, always working on the genius.

[Musical Interlude]

00:00:13 Sima Belmar

Hi folks, I’m Sima Belmar, writer in residence at ODC and this is Dance Cast. Dance Cast is a podcast dedicated to critical conversations around all genres of dance. It’s for dance insiders, dance lovers, and the dance curious. I talk with choreographers, dancers, educators, designers, presenters, body workers, journalists, and scholars about dance theories and practices of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

00:00:43 Sima Belmar

Today’s guest is Robert Moses, director of Robert Moses’ Kin, right here in San Francisco.

00:00:52 Sima Belmar

Robert Moses’s Kin was supposed to celebrate their 25th anniversary last year, but we all know what happened to those celebrations. They had to shift online, and you can see some of the beautiful dance films that Robert Moses’ Kin made in that time period, and continues to make, on the website robertmoseskin.org.

00:01:19 Sima Belmar

You can also find out a lot about Robert as a choreographer, educator, and award winner on that website, but one thing that it doesn’t mention is what an extraordinary dancer he is. Robert is a former ODC dancer and his company is part of ODC Theater’s Summer festival this year.

[Musical Interlude]

00:01:43 Sima Belmar

Robert and I talked for a really long time. So I had to edit many parts of the conversation. So I think it’s important for listeners to know that the conversation really challenged me to confront assumptions I was making about all sorts of things. In particular about equity work. Robert offered a lot of food, not just for thought, but for action.

00:02:13 Sima Belmar

I talked to him a bit about the Equity Working Group at ODC that I’m part of. He really helped clarify for me the difference between having groups that give white people an opportunity to process their experiences being racist, their experiences committing to anti racism — that that space of processing is different from, and should be kept separate from, spaces devoted to discussing action: reparations, hiring practices, casting practices, transparency practices. He helped me clarify the specific role that affinity groups play as we move to a more equitable world.

00:03:04 Sima Belmar

White people do need to gather to process. We’ve been hearing this from the Resmaa Menakems and Robin DiAngelos of the world, and BIPOC folks don’t need to bear witness to that processing.

[Musical Interlude]

00:03:21 Sima Belmar

So before we get going with Robert Moses, allow me to present the ODC calendar for March.

00:03:33 Sima Belmar

Grab your dancing shoes and join us for the next ODC virtual ball on Monday, March 1st in celebration of Women’s History Month, featuring special guests Honey Mahogany and Monique Jenkinson, aka Fauxnique. Rhythm & Motion’s Maggie Connard will teach Classic Jazz steps and phrases for you to strut on the virtual dance floor. This event is free! Register at odc.dance.

Join us on March 19th for Drinks and a Dance, featuring a virtual screening of Kate Weare and Brenda Way’s “World’s on Fire.” In this work, Weare and Way explore the cyclical nature of human experience, touching on themes of kinship, belief, codes of honor, love and the will to endure. Prior to the screening, guests will enjoy a lively discussion between the artists, as well as a wine tasting led by Mary Stubbs, owner of Stubbs Vineyard.

Passes for ODC Theater’s Summer Festival are now on sale! Two weeks of virtual events will feature repertory, premieres, and in-process work created specifically for a digital experience. Celebrate a historic cohort of artists originally scheduled to appear in 2020’s festival, joined by present and emerging creatives of today and tomorrow. June 3rd — 12th. You can find more information on these events and reserve your festival pass at odc.dance/calendar.

00:05:02 Sima Belmar

On with the show.

[Musical Interlude]

00:05:15 Sima Belmar

I met you…

00:05:17 Robert Moses

Oh boy, here it comes.

00:05:18 Sima Belmar

Yeah

00:05:19 Sima Belmar

I was at Stanford. I was doing a PhD in Russian literature and I started in 1993. So I believe you were already teaching then, or at least by ‘94.

00:05:29 Robert Moses

It may have been ’94 because I did a little teaching there before I started teaching there.

00:05:35 Sima Belmar

Right, you did teaching before you started teaching. Got it. Before you had a regular gig. Well, I was, you know, whatever, 22, and had danced my whole life, but that wasn’t the career path at the time. And I started taking your class at Roble gym. You were what made me realize, your class made me realize, “I don’t want to do a PhD in Russian literature!” Like I would walk into the library and just walk right out, and then I would just go to your class…

00:06:00 Robert Moses

You’re gonna make me responsible for that, huh?

00:06:03 Sima Belmar

Yes! And you should feel good about that ’cause I eventually did get a PhD in a subject that actually mattered to me [performance studies].

00:06:08 Sima Belmar

I’m going to ask you some questions about some of the language on the website, which may or may not come from you. You know you might have, I don’t know who writes that copy…

00:06:17 Robert Moses

Most of it, most of it comes from me.

00:06:19 Sima Belmar

That’s what I figured.

00:06:21 Sima Belmar

So one thing that it says is that the company, “Robert Moses’ Kin strives to produce dance works which speak to what is specific and unique in human nature,” and the next sentence is, “the company uses movement as the medium through which race, class, culture and gender are used to voice the existence of our greater potential and unfulfilled possibilities.”

00:06:44 Sima Belmar

And so I just wanted to talk a little bit about…Because on the one hand, there’s something very broadly humanistic about that statement. And then, on the other hand, it also recognizes the specificity of individual cultural experience.

00:07:01 Robert Moses

You got it.

[Laughter]

00:07:02 Robert Moses

I mean, I mean, I’m not gonna read, you know I’m not going to restate something, if you, if you got it and it’s been written there. I mean, that’s really basically the idea is if you make a piece of work or you make whatever you make, should speak ideally to as many people as possible, but it should make, should be like picking up a book or listening to a particular piece of music and someone thinks…that was something that spoke directly to me. Without cutting any part of them off necessarily. Because it’s speaking to a particular part, speaking particularly to them, to a particular part of them, and because that’s the truth there in the world, it speaks to the world.

00:07:46 Sima Belmar

I read the, I guess it was a speech you gave at the dance? What was it called? The CDEA? [California Dance Education Association]

00:07:52 Robert Moses

Yeah. Yeah, if it was, if it was on.

00:07:55 Sima Belmar

[Dick] Gregory?

00:07:56 Robert Moses

Well, he was mentioned on it, but if it was on the website then it was the National Dance Educators Association.

00:08:03 Sima Belmar

Yeah, I really was very moved by that. And you were using,from my point of view, the word “legacy” differently from how it’s being tossed around in institutions that are grappling with legacy. Because something that keeps coming up for me is when there’s resistance to certain kinds of change, often the defense, the line of defense is, well, this company or this institution has a legacy to somehow preserve or protect.

00:08:36 Sima Belmar

And I keep saying, well, just because it’s legacy doesn’t necessarily mean it should be preserved or protected right? Which is different, right? There’s plenty of legacies that we don’t want to preserve and protect.

00:08:50 Robert Moses

Ask, oh, just ask any state that has the statues coming down, so yeah.

00:08:58 Sima Belmar

Exactly. Exactly, and it’s very interesting how that’s legacy, tradition. There are these words that are just, they feel so bound up with white supremacy. But in your, in that speech, you were using it differently, not as something to preserve and protect and put into the inside like a glass container, but something about historical memory of that which has been potentially ignored by history.

00:09:29 Robert Moses

The essential issue is what carries forward, that is of worth, right? So we don’t necessarily want to acknowledge things that, or even carry forward things, that are negative. We don’t really want to do that. No one wants to, and whatever legacy carries something forward that’s negative. So the first thing we do is to maybe delude ourselves into thinking anything that we do that gets a reaction, or that is affirmed in some way by some group of people, is the thing that is of worth to people, really, or in general. So that, I think that’s the first thing.

00:10:09 Robert Moses

So regarding [Richard] Pryor and Gregory in that particular thing. It was, you know, Pryor was getting a reaction to some of his behavior, and Gregory was saying, listen, you’ve got everything it takes to be the person that you want to be, but the behavior that you’re engaging in is going to leave the wrong kind of legacy.

00:10:31 Sima Belmar

Hmm.

00:10:34 Robert Moses

That’s partially what I’m talking about. Talk about leaving the path that is the path that leads to the expected rewards. Then there are penalties that go in line with that, and that’s one of the things that I’m working on now. And there are a lot of African American artists, speakers, comedians, whatnot that have done that so, you know, we look at Pryor. Pryor did not necessarily know that when he stopped playing in the houses in Vegas pretending to be Bill Cosby — that’s an overstatement — that he was going to be able to sort of continue forward in the way that he wanted. But his reality of what he was came forward and the thing that was worth something came forward.

00:11:17 Robert Moses

It’s the same thing with Dave Chappelle. Dave Chappelle walked away from his show. He didn’t have to say more than once to black people that he walked away from that show because the sound of the laughter that he was getting was coming from the wrong kind of place. And that the things they were asking him to do weren’t in line with the things that he thought were appropriate to the moment, right?

00:11:40 Robert Moses

So then, when you talk about legacy, what happens then to you if you stay with the thing and it turns at some point? Or if it turns at some point to be not the thing that you intended it to be, so that everything that you do from that point forward is seen from the prism that is pointed in the wrong direction. So you may have done some comedy with a character of a blind KKK member, which might be really insightful, and, by the way, humorous, but also, through the wrong lens, can make you look like you’re just bowing to things you shouldn’t, so legacy is important in that way.

00:12:20 Robert Moses

So for, I think for dance artists it’s important in that you want to make sure that you’re careful about, there are things you have to be careful about, that I think others don’t have to be careful about if you’re an African American dance artist in terms of where your influences wind up, particularly if the people in power have the ability to say, “We were here first” with this, that or the other.

00:12:47 Sima Belmar

You say in that same speech, you talk about marrying intention to knowledge. So what does that look like?

00:12:55 Robert Moses

It looks, I mean, that’s decision-making. You have an understanding of the way the world works and you want it to move forward in a way that you think will be of service. And I do mean that in a real way to as many people as possible, not just your tribe, but everybody that is a part of this world. And you understand that the way this world works, and I don’t have to explain this, that things can turn on a dime away from your meeting at any moment. Particularly in this era where everybody knows how to spin something into something else, and it’s not just political things.

00:13:35 Robert Moses

I mean, so, when you talk about marrying, marrying intention to knowledge, the first thing you have to do is give people credit for knowing something. So I don’t believe in calling people stupid or ignorant and you know, they come from where they come from. And they act in a manner that’s in line with who they are initially, ideally or whatever.

00:13:55 Robert Moses

So this idea in general around, we give artists a certain amount of agency, and I don’t like that word, but we give them a certain amount of agency up to a point, and then at the point where they do something that’s out of line with something, then we automatically, using the royal “we,” shift the notion of them into one of ignorance or not being ready to bear the brunt of or accountable to their own work.

00:14:26 Robert Moses

Now that, for me, I guess the thing is, when we do this thing where we paint the artifact with our meaning, the dance, the piece of music, whatever, with our perceptions and then take those perceptions and lay them at the feet of whomever has done it, whoever has done it, and say, why did you do this that, I don’t know that that serves anybody once they’ve said this is what it was supposed to be and then someone says, well, this is what I understand. We can’t quite get to anywhere from that. If you don’t give the agency back to the artist.

00:15:04 Sima Belmar

You’re saying to me that I should imagine that the artist knows what they’re doing. First! That that should be my first impulse.

00:15:16 Robert Moses

…you should imagine! Well, that wasn’t loaded, but…

00:15:20 Sima Belmar

Well, you know what I mean. No because it is an imagining…

00:15:21 Robert Moses

I know what you meant, but I’m just saying, you know, you were talking about words here.

00:15:26 Sima Belmar

[Laughing] No, because it sounds like…

00:15:26 Robert Moses

…to imagine …because that’s possible after spending months or years considering something, after spending decades working on this, that they might just know what they’re doing.

00:15:39 Sima Belmar

Well…

00:15:39 Robert Moses

I think I’m just saying it’s a, it’s one of those things where you got the artist and then go…

00:15:45 Sima Belmar

Right, I guess you’re right, that sounded horrible and OK let me rephrase ’cause that’s not what I mean…

00:15:50 Robert Moses

No, no you don’t have to rephrase, you don’t have to rephrase at all, I’m just saying that these poor…’cause I’m not trying to convince you of anything, it’s a conversation, I’m just saying that…

00:15:57 Sima Belmar

Sure.

00:15:59 Robert Moses

…that is something that I think artists do hear, however it’s said, what the word is, imagine or whatever, whatever the phrasing might be, that’s something that artists might hear in particular ways and then respond to the world in ways that the world questions.

00:16:19 Sima Belmar

Yeah, I guess, I guess I do want to rephrase it only because I often see works, we’re not even talking about, we’re not even talking about you right now, but whatever, I’m just enjoying this conversation, by all kinds of artists from all kinds of backgrounds, where I get a feeling that they don’t, and maybe it’s just not their job…Maybe it’s just not the artist’s job what I’m about to say, which…

Robert Moses

…yeah, spit it out

Sima Belmar

…which is just that I assume a lot of the time, it seems to me, not that I assume, it seems to me, that I think to myself, wait, have they laid their eyes on this though or laid other eyes on it, or other perspectives…

00:16:59 Robert Moses

What does that mean? At base? What does that mean?

00:17:01 Sima Belmar

I guess it just means that sometimes things get put on stage after lengthy, like you say, lengthy processes that look like many things were not considered or thought of. Like impressions were not…

00:17:15 Robert Moses

OK, and OK, but that’s actually, the question seems a little bit like it’s getting ahead of itself, in that, again, what you’re doing is…the power dynamic is out of whack, and that once you’ve done this thing, I get to tell you what it is. And when I look at it, and how it should be considered.

00:17:34 Robert Moses

And, and again, depending on what our forms you’re working in, there’s a difference, right? So if you’re working the way a lot of contemporary modern dancers have worked until this point, up until COVID, you look at the thing, and they work for a year or something like that, and they get to put it on stage for a week or two if it doesn’t go on tour somewhere and they don’t get to re-, manage it.

00:17:53 Robert Moses

If, IF, something happens in the work that they hadn’t intended that they want to address, right?

00:17:58 Sima Belmar

Right.

00:17:59 Robert Moses

But if they do put it on stage and it’s supposed to not deal with anything, not deal with anything that will be off-putting, I don’t have another word for it, to the audience, then I just say that just makes things too hot.

00:18:18 Robert Moses

You can’t get to the place where people are going to not have an issue with the work, unless, there are a few ways, but two of them are: first, it is what I say it is, not what you see. And then the second is that we all agree on the, and I hate this word, through the privileging of a particular aesthetic in the place that people are seeing this thing, so we all have a clear understanding of what this thing is, right? And those are the things that people start to follow, right? So at one point everybody starts following [Merce] Cunningham, and then they start following [William] Forsythe, and then they start doing Gaga, da da da da da…and that there’s an agreement around the aesthetics of that and what the body is and what beauty is and what beautiful motion is and what value is. But then what that does is that erases, that erases the person that brings their point of view to something, if they don’t adhere to that other thing. Whatever the trend is in that moment, or at that moment. And so it’s, I mean, it’s a difficult question because you know, we don’t have the eyes…is it flies that have eyes that have, like you know, they have like 300 lenses in their eyes or something like that?

00:19:42 Sima Belmar

[Laughter] Sounds right.

00:19:44 Robert Moses

You know, you know something like that. We don’t we don’t have, we don’t have that ability: to see all those things at once. What we do is we synthesize and we decide what shouldn’t be there, rather than look at the thing and say, even if that shouldn’t be there, I understand that your vision is the one that put this forward, and these are the things that are apart from that.

00:20:02 Sima Belmar

Choreographers will talk about their work before or after you see it. Fair enough, they’re asked to do so. And then, am I meant to accept that what a choreographer is saying about their work, their intention, what it’s about, what it’s supposed to do, whatever, am I supposed to accept that? That it’s going to stick to the work and I have to believe that? Does saying it make it true? Does me having my own experience in the face of those comments or intentions, can it coexist with what they’re saying? Does it negate what they’re saying? Or is it like what you just said, is my perspective erased because I’m not getting the thing I’m supposed to get?

00:20:44 Robert Moses

OK, let me just, let me just try to clarify. I didn’t say your perspective was erased. You can have your perspective.

00:20:49 Sima Belmar

No, I thought you just said that some, that the perspectives that don’t hook into a trend, for example, you were talking about trends. Like that if everyone is on board with something, and then I’m by myself, not on board with it, that perspective is erased. Is that right?

00:21:03 Robert Moses

No, it’s not erased, it’s there, but it’s just not, it’s not credited in the same way as the thing that’s that, until people look back and maybe see something that, something in it that they hadn’t been ready to see before, which is…

00:21:16 Sima Belmar

OK.

00:21:16 Robert Moses

Which happens. Do I believe what artists have to say? Depends on if they are honest or not.

[Laughter]

00:21:27 Robert Moses

But it also, it also depends on where they are. So I, in this moment, right now reconsidering a lot of the work in relationship to putting it on video and or film, and putting it into the world. So I’ve redone a couple of things in a couple of ways, and situationally, because the dancers can’t be together, so using some pre-existing text and the work works in that way. And what happened on stage is what happened on stage, and what happens on the films is what happens on the film.

00:21:58 Robert Moses

I have to sort of re-manage the intention behind it so that it makes sense. Right? It doesn’t, we’re not stuck, it’s not…these things are not museum pieces necessarily. Something about the heart of them has to stay in place. But if somebody, if you look at something and somebody is lying to you about it, you’ll know. You’ll know if they…And I’m not saying artists don’t fail at things. If an artist fails at something…And this is the other side, this is the other side of what I’m saying. Because it’s impossible for me, the other side of what I’m saying is it’s impossible for me to actually do, as specifically, any artist, to do as specifically as they intend, what they intend. And if, the other side of it that I didn’t mention before is, and if I fail in doing something then it is my fail, and it is my fault. All artists fail all the time. You know, a masterpiece is not perfection it’s just a masterpiece.

00:22:53 Sima Belmar

Yeah, which reminds me of your gorgeous writing about learning the bump with your mom and how you were weaving through that text the idea of, you know, the idea of getting caught trying. And what was her phrase about missing the hit?

00:23:08 Robert Moses

Yeah, yeah, “Nothing beats a hit but a miss.” Right?

00:23:11 Sima Belmar

Nothing beats a hit but a miss.

00:23:12 Robert Moses

Yeah, that I mean, and that’s, I think that’s true. That, that just tells you just keep, you know, keep going, that’s it.

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Dancers (moving clockwise from from upper left corner): Kaia Makihara, Crystaldawn Bell, Vincent Chavez, and Liv Schaffer. Photo courtesy of Robert Moses’ Kin

00:23:20 Sima Belmar

You were talking about these films, which are part of, let me just get the language right, just for, the RMK around the Bay, which began in person and then became films. Had to move to film.

00:23:32 Sima Belmar

It was really wonderful to watch the films in a row also just to watch the movement vocabulary as it moved across spaces. Because, you know, there’s tons of content. Everybody’s throwing stuff up there. Every time someone invites me to show I’m like, no, I don’t want to watch a show online, don’t make me do it! I just want to watch Netflix! You know, so…And sometimes I just have to be patient, you know, and see if I get drawn in.

00:23:57 Robert Moses

Right.

00:24:02 Sima Belmar

I just have to be patient. But in Untitled [Elegy] I got very pulled into the articulations and the initiations and the deconstructions of movement that are that, are just part of all of your work. Like watching it in a cumulative way, gave me, brought me back into the body, into the body of work. Because I find that one of the hardest things for dance writers to write about, podcasters to talk about is, just, you know, movement itself. Somehow it’s like the last thing. And what was interesting was I read somewhere, you said it somewhere, it was you, talking about “the physical choreography being easier than shaping the conceptual parts of a work.”

00:24:36 Robert Moses

Yeah, well that, that just has to do with everything we’re talking about. I mean you can, you can, it’s, content is, it can be easy or difficult, but context is the thing that you have to force. Creative artists who are individuals pushing a company or their work forward don’t get the time to do the thing, if you’re interested in narrative, because for the most part, most of the stuff that’s happening online is relatively narrative, at least in, at least in impression, right? Some of it’s directly, some of it’s…and there’s a bunch of stuff that we haven’t put out yet because of the way the world works and you’re not supposed to put everything out at one time, in order to….

00:25:16 Sima Belmar

Right?

00:25:17 Robert Moses

…Come and watch you so that you can build an audience. All this, all that stuff which is part of it. But this thing about, you know, come here or come here, which has to do with context, forcing context on to something is that you have to build the thing in a way that people will know or understand it. If you’re interested in communicating with them at all, right?

00:25:36 Robert Moses

So you know the whole tree of, tree of abstraction thing, that whole thing is like, how do you start? You start in a place that either is completely understood, narrative or whatever, there’s meaning in it, and you remove layers by degree until you get to a place that’s impressionistic enough that people will have an understanding of what you’re saying as you move forward, right? And none of us have a language I think that will allow us to do that completely, otherwise we would be able to go in, and go into…and I don’t do this, but go into a program and not put program notes down, right? Or, and you would, when you send your grant applications, and you would just send your physical language and syntax, and, through bodies, right?

00:26:24 Robert Moses

So the issue of comprehension, the lifetime that you spend trying to create something that speaks to people in a place, from a place, to a place that’s more articulate than I just enjoyed it, or it touched my soul. Ideally it will touch your soul, it will touch your mind, it will touch everything else and you’ll be able to get it and carry it forward, carry it out. That’s something that we don’t get to, right? And, but I do think that I can get closer to making things legible for others by being more specific about what I do.

00:26:59 Robert Moses

I don’t know that, and I really don’t know that that needs to carry over from piece to piece to piece, because then I get stuck in a box and I really don’t like that.

00:27:06 Sima Belmar

Right.

00:27:07 Robert Moses

You know, being a human being, you do have habits that you don’t recognize. And, I mean that’s…I mean, and also, honestly, part of that is when COVID happens, or something as catastrophic as the world shutting down happens, you work and…I have a responsibility to those dancers I was working with to keep them employed and so we did these projects to keep things moving so that I could pay them through the period that I said I was going to pay them through. But we had significantly restricted ways to do that, and…

00:27:44 Sima Belmar

So, I see what you’re saying. So, when I was commenting about the vocabulary, I didn’t say, it’s not that it looks similar, that I could feel a stamp on it throughout.

00:27:54 Robert Moses

Yeah, and the stamp…

00:27:56 Sima Belmar

And you feel, that’s in part because of the current restrictions.

00:28:00 Robert Moses

Yeah, well, no, it’s…I don’t want to take my hand off responsibility for that, that would be ridiculous. It’s, it’s partially, is partially because if I say to the dancers, we’ve got a schedule of this long and we need to, I need to see this, that and the other. And we’re in a new medium, which is where we are…

00:28:19 Robert Moses

I’m not in the room with you to watch you work through something. I have to trust that you’re going to do it because I don’t have…even if I had 16 cameras up, I can’t…I’m not a fly.

[Laughter]

00:28:29 Robert Moses

I can’t watch all 16 of those things or hundreds of those things, and take them in at one time. I have to find a way to make the work, shed, which as hard as it is for me, to shed some responsibility in some ways for actualizing, I hate that word too, but actualising the work and then move that forward. And then doing that you do sometimes move to something that’s more general than not.

00:28:57 Robert Moses

That was a long winded, I don’t know if you, if that made sense, but…

00:29:00 Sima Belmar

It did make sense, it did. And you know what I do want to say for someone, like everyone, who had to pivot quickly to this medium, I was really struck by how much was attended to. Especially the color palettes. The color palettes are extraordinary in these films! The green, and the red, and the duet with Juliet McMains, you know, I know Juliet McMains as a scholar I didn’t, I’ve never seen her dance before, I’ve just read her book the, you know, Glamour Addiction about ballroom dancing. And that film was so stunning and with the, in that coffee shop, with the birds of paradise mural, and her orange pants, and his green shirt. I mean, so that’s you.

00:29:50 Robert Moses

That’s us, this is what I’m saying.

00:29:51 Sima Belmar

Us.

00:29:52 Robert Moses

That’s us. We say, what are the options? You send the pictures back to me, I say this. I say what are the options for location? They say that. Can we do this? No, we can’t do that because now that part of the school is shut down, I have a friend who has a coffee shop. The easy way to do it is to go to the Palace of Fine Arts, put everyone in something white, and you have that lovely sort of sanded color there and things, you know, things will essentially work out. And you go to, you, you put them in something else and you go to San Francisco Beach and you look around,…

00:30:26 Robert Moses

…you kind of go, there’s just too much graffiti and whatnot here, let’s see if we need to wash all of this out and figure out how to make this look reasonable and then use a particular filter on it.

00:30:37 Robert Moses

And then you have to trust, you go to the room with people, and you trust the dancers in a particular way. So you say here’s 75 things. Here’s what I’m thinking. Take these 75 things and play with them like a musician. I’ll be the composer. You play with them like a musician. Get this tone, that tone, right? There’s a lot of opportunity for the kind of adjustment that you were speaking to earlier which is, as an artist, look at something and I say, OK, I can look at this 1000 times now and I can change the score a million times, or I can change this, that, and the other until it gets closer to what I want. I can’t do that on stage because I can do that from year to year on stage, so that’s something that’s nice about this.

[Musical Interlude]

00:31:25 Robert Moses

We’re leaning so heavily on the antiracism thing, that certain kinds, and the antiracism thing is very important if you’re buying into any of this, right? So, if it’s the antiracism thing and you’re saying we need to look at our, ’cause antiracism is really about looking, it’s about systems, but it’s really looking at, I think it’s about, looking at how you as an individual may buy into the systems thing. And the Afro, not Afrofuturism, Afropessimism thing is really about how this system, how this system is not avoidable because in order for it to be avoidable you have to recognize, and acknowledge the humanity of others, and that’s not possible with the current system.

00:32:25 Robert Moses

Yeah, so that’s, those are really, in my reading, those really are two different kinds of things. And you know there are other ways to sort of think about things.

00:32:35 Robert Moses

But it’s also exhausting thinking about that stuff, because like who wants to be thinking about whether or not…Who wants to be looking, looking internally all the time? And whether or not the system is going to see them at some point, right?

00:32:51 Robert Moses

Yeah and well, I mean, you know you might think why, you just might ask yourselves the question why the black, the thing with the Black interviewee I guess is happening during, Black History Month? So in terms of you know, this is happening in February. Like OK what is that? So what does that look like?

00:33:13 Sima Belmar

Mmmm!

00:33:14 Robert Moses

If there’s some, you know and if you look, if you look at all the things that are happening and everybody is suddenly having somebody Black to put on their website and you want to know how old is that picture? And is it representative of that person actually and that organization, or is that someone who walks through there while he’s got their own thing going on to support their own things?

00:33:33 Robert Moses

Is it really about supporting folks at the grassroots? So I mean so we’re in a jacked up space I expect I’m going to survive February and…

00:33:42 Sima Belmar

Maybe I’m going to put this in March!

00:33:44 Robert Moses

If you put it in March, that would say something. But if you put it in February, that says something as well. I’m not sure which…I’m not, again, I’m not, I’m not trying to jack with your intentions, but I’m just saying…

00:33:57 Sima Belmar

No, you are absolutely right. This is exactly, no, this is exactly what I like to get to. I mean, what’s the point if we don’t get to the actual example?

00:34:04 Sima Belmar

I mean, this is the example. I thought of you ’cause I thought of you. Then I realized, yeah, Black History Month. And I thought, oh OK, you know. Then I thought because we were having, you know it was taking a little bit to arrange it, I had my back up interview with Siobhan Burke, who is white dance critic. And then I thought about that and I was like, oh, and then there’s the two white ladies and one Asian American from ODC, and then this. And I’m thinking about these things.

00:34:29 Sima Belmar

And then, but I think what I’m getting, really realizing from you, and again you correct me, is what I just did, you don’t care about that. You don’t want to be involved in me swimming around trying to figure out is it better to drop it in February? Is it better to drop it, because that’s not….

00:34:46 Robert Moses

Not in, no not in your head. And I will…

00:34:48 Sima Belmar

Right.

00:34:51 Robert Moses

I have enough agency…I mean, it, and that is not quite the way to put it, because if you’re part of a group, and you’re trying to have something happen for the group, then you have to push to have things happen as much…as often as possible, not necessarily only in a particular way to prove a point, right? So, “I’m not going to do stuff outside of February” to prove a point, that’s, that doesn’t do anything for anybody.

00:35:21 Robert Moses

So, and I’m not, I’m just not interested in, and this is a hard thing for white people to hear, I’m not interested in your pain, I’m just not. And I don’t mean that as a, as a human being, I am. As a human being, I want to make sure that everybody’s living in comfort, but I’m not interested in…I’m exhausted, exhausted by you.

[Laughter]

00:35:43 Sima Belmar

No, I get it. I get it makes perfect sense to me. I’m in my mind being like, but Robert is, would be concerned about Sima’s pain, particular pain. If I wanted to bitch right now about my pain, about my life, you would listen to me. I know it! But I hear what you’re saying, absolutely.

00:35:59 Robert Moses

But that is also one of the things that happens. They talk about it in the Afropessimism thing that I think is really interesting is that we don’t, you’re talking about your discomfort, and then Afropessimism, we, it’s, there’s this thing about not wanting you to feel the discomfort.

00:36:15 Robert Moses

“You” being white people, not wanting to feel the discomfort because we’ve been adjusted in that position, but I think it’s also because we don’t want it, because if the, when you feel that then we have to face it with you, you can’t, you won’t just go behind your own doors and deal with it.

00:36:32 Robert Moses

That’s part of that’s part of what it is. All right, so I’m sure I’ve gotten myself in trouble now.

00:36:36 Sima Belmar

Not at all. This is amazing. This was great. I hope this was good for you.

00:36:40 Robert Moses

Yeah, no no, no…I’m going to contribute to your comfort right now by telling you it was painless. How’s that?

[Laughter]

[Musical Interlude]

00:36:58 Sima Belmar

I highly, highly recommend folks read Robert’s blog. I hope he continues it, he doesn’t call it a blog, he calls it Notebooks. And you can find out so much about Robert Moses, his company Robert Moses’ Kin, and everything they’ve been about and are about on their website, robertmoseskin.org.

Show notes are available at odc.dance/stories. Dance Cast is produced through ODC by me, Sima Belmar, Sophie Leininger, and Chloë Zimberg.

00:37:26 Sima Belmar

Got a comment or a question? Write to me at sima@odc.dance.

00:37:33 Sima Belmar

Thanks for listening, folks. Dance On!

[Musical Outro]

Image for post
Image for post
Robert Moses in rehearsal. Dancers (from L to R): Dazaun Soleyn, Byron Roman, NOrma Fong, and Crystaldawn Bell. Photo by Steve Disenhof.

On Saturday, February 20, as part of Celebrate Black Voices, celebrate Black History Month with a special screening of Robert Moses’ 2003 work “Biography,” formerly titled “Biography of Baldwin.”

ODC.dance.stories

A collection of articles about ODC and the world of Dance

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