REVIEW: Reggie Wilson’s ‘Moses(es)’ at BAM
Reggie Wilson is certain of himself. This confidence shows in his hands, crossed in front of his body as he stands onstage at the BAM Harvey Theater, gazing out at the audience. They are strong, durable hands, and minutes later when they are rapidly packing masses of tinsel into a suitcase, they display no trace of tension. They are the hands of a maker who knows and believes in his taste.
Moses(es), which makes its New York premiere this week at BAM, is ripe with this confidence. It finds form in familiar structures — sections weaving in and out of each other, ensemble washes of the space, juxtaposed duets. These conventions, paired with articulate choreography and deliberate performance, generate a work that is at once watchable and fresh, for rather than trickling into trope or pastiche, Wilson seems freed by formality. His choreography is ranging, risky, tumultuous yet controlled and, more often than not, direct of line and initiation. Where the work departs from familiar territory lies more in what is less obviously seen.
How do we lead? ask the program notes, an example of the work’s line of inquiry. One answer? By commanding respect and claiming authority. And how to show this in dance? In Wilson’s hands, through movement that awes. Ohad Naharin (with whom Wilson performed) is a clear influence, but where Naharin’s choreography is sometimes tinted by a steely cool, almost brutal virtuosity, Wilson’s stays warmer, the dancers more human. Sweat begins to fly within the first 20 minutes of the evening-length work, and at times the pace seems oppressively wearying; appropriate, of course, for a work with themes of an epic pilgrimage. In one section, disco balls lower over the stage, the lighting dims, and each performer comes forward in a cypher to take a solo. They experiment with phrasing, coy, alluring, without reservation. Though slightly overstylized, it gives the dancers a moment of solitude, emphasizing each unique set of qualities. Reggie Wilson’s company is full of exemplary dancers: a full head and shoulders smaller than the others, Anna Schon is absolutely ferociously bold, with legs that don’t seem to conform to anatomical law. Clement Mensah is buoyant, springy; Raja Feather Kelly’s limbs whip around him with centrifugal power.
It’s a pleasure to see work that relishes in moments of classicism and generates trackable patterns and dynamics. Moses(es) excels as a lens through which to explore a classic narrative, examining individuality within a group, distilling universal questions and laying them out for deliberation. And it’s comforting to be led through an evening of performance by a self-assured director. Wilson appears rarely in the work, typically as a catalyst for a shift, often heard in the sound score of vocalizations. As the work nears its close, he seats himself at the front of the stage, observing with smoldering presence. He snaps his fingers; the dancers rush to move. He slowly walks between them, clad all in white against their red costumes. Moses through the Red Sea? Maybe. More directly, a leader through his people. The dance continues after he leaves. Like the prophet, he does not see the finish.