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Dance group takes cultural tour in ‘Moses(es)’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Reggie Wilson, artistic director of New York City’s Fist and Heel Performance Group, returned to Albuquerque’s North Fourth Art Center on Friday evening to retell the story of Moses in the language of movement, song, rhythms of Southern black folklore, and Hebrew and African chant. He studied images of Moses from Judaism, Christianity and Islam to reveal the Moses in everyman and woman, thus the title “Moses(es).”

The dancers came together from a variety of sources: Ghana, Sierra Leone, Trinidad, Jamaica, Florida and the Bronx. As an ensemble, they explored leadership questions raised by the Moses story, such as when to step out of following to lead within the choreography. Two women, Anna Schön and Rhetta Aleong, with deeply contrasting body types compared to the tall and powerful men, moved with commanding authority, the tiny Schön once carrying a seeming giant on her shoulders.

The movement sustained a muscular power and psychological drive that throbbed with a kinesthetic impact on the viewer. This rhythmic language was provoked by traditions of the Blues, Slave, Gospel, and Hebrew chants. Wilson, seated at stage left, provided a masterful accompaniment with, indeed, fist and heel percussive patterns that continued throughout the 70 minute performance.

A pile of glittering silver bling and a modern suitcase lay at center stage, where Wilson packed it into the case as “Go Down, Moses” was sung. He was packing up the modern to move into history. The dancers, clustered at stage left, began to hum and stepped backward into the stage space. They turned, arms and chests lifting high, walking on a life long journey, in this case a metaphorical exodus. The primary dance motif was stated, and often repeated within the journey, from past to present, from struggle to celebration, from fear to exploration. Diagonal lines formed, then lowered as the dancers dropped into squatting poses, their arms scooping and lifting something precious to hold. They then dropped to the floor in a sideways position, one arm and hand pointing to an invisible place or unseen future.

A second section brought the dancers on to strike Pharaonic poses, finding the familiar sideways stance, with lifted elbows and forward facing upper torsos, then crossing arms over the chest, as if holding the royal symbols seen in sculpture and murals. Deep second position plies, high developés and wide-legged turns inferred the warrior opposition to the Journey.

A duet, sung with body gestures called out “Somebody call Eli for me, for me.”

It was repeated as a chant by Aleong, accompanied by Wilson’s fist and heel rhythms. A line formed again, and tiny dots of light with a turning mirrored ceiling fixture evoked a nightclub atmosphere. Each dancer emerged from the line to assume a movement solo full of joy and power, taking a lead for another follower. Great long-legged leaps, twists in the air, high straight jumps into the air exploded with power and energy.

One section of the piece was based on mathematical terms, like the numerical 1.6 Golden Mean, with sharply focused changes in direction. “Wadin’ in the Water” took the dancers in to a glorying of movement in all its fluidity, followed by a Caribbean party atmosphere of self-accepting pleasure in human connections.

“Go Down Moses” returned to proclaim the journey towards freedom.