Teach the Children Well

Modern Dance show Fable and Faith is aimed at both adults and kids


airy tales, however fantastical, are more than mere fluff. Try mining them for more meaning and mixing them with modern dance. This seems like the most natural thing in the world for internationally recognized choreographer/artistic director Robert Moses. His Fable and Faith offers a multi-layered, multi-faceted mash-up of dance, theater, myths and mores. His renowned San Francisco-based company, Robert Moses’ Kin, will perform his new evening-length piece at the Aronoff Center this weekend, as part of Contemporary Dance Theater’s longstanding Guest Artist Series. 

What first inspired him to create such a work, one that’s suited for adults and children alike? 

“What came first were my kids,” Moses says with a chuckle, as he speaks via mobile phone on a blustery Bay Area day. He has a four-year-old and a six-year-old and, like any good parent, he reads to his kids — and thinks about what they’re being taught.

“These are ethical and moral tales that have profound meaning,” he says of classic children’s fairy tales. “We’re not going to read something to our children that we think is going to do them any kind of harm or get in too deep. And as I was going through these tales, I’m realizing, ‘Oh my God, most of these things are so old! They’re out of date. Are they giving them the right messages?’ ”

Peel back the layers, and fairy tales become moral tales, as well as products of the culture that spawned them. After all, the term “moral” has multiple meanings: The moral of a story might impart codes for moral behavior — as defined by particular cultural mores. 

“In reintroducing yourself to these things, you have to reexamine them,” Moses says.

Then he asked himself the questions that first sparked the work: If kids just believe what you tell them, along with what they are fed by mass media, how does it shape them?

“What happens? Will they become less proactive in their life?” he asks. “How can you really give them something that really attaches to what they can use in the world?”

There’s a lot of history and forward thinking in this piece, according to Moses.

He also recognizes that fairy tales involve powerful storytelling. There are reasons why many tales have been told for centuries.

Fable and Faith promises to deliver some strong narrative values, too. Literally. Moses has collaborated once again with award-winning documentary playwright and former children’s storyteller Anne Galjour for this work. (He and Galjour first joined forces for the company’s acclaimed multi-media piece, The Cinderella Principle; its 2010 world premier coincided with the 15-year anniversary of Robert Moses’ Kin.)

“(Galjour) has this amazing sense of being able to get something across in the gentlest way possible and a way that has that sort of double meaning for kids and adults,” he says.

As Moses melded the narrative language of fairy tales with movement, he needed to find the right dance vocabulary to illustrate the stories and “bend them.” None are told in a straightforward way. 

“They kind of run into each other — they collide,” he says. “And from there something else comes out.”

As with written language, editing is key. 

“You edit it for shape, you edit for content, you edit for rhythm,” he says of his process. “That’s how it winds up coming together: You put all the ideas down, and ideally they’re on point, but not so specific that they don’t allow me to have room to change direction. And as I move the points around, I’m able to really latch onto something that has meaning for people.”

Moses good-naturedly declined to describe his own choreographic style. Suffice to say, it’s a diverse mix. By all accounts, his dancers give their all with palpable energy, athleticism and passion — not to mention technical prowess. Past San Francisco Chronicle commentary on another work points to his “fast and furious, streetwise, yet, eloquent style.”

One thing is certain: Moses’ work regularly involves a blend of styles, media and collaborative partners of all kinds. Throughout his career, Moses has created more than 80 works, spanning a wide range of performance disciplines, genres and styles: opera, film, ballet, contemporary dance, theater. 

He has worked with an extensive roster of illustrious talent, including LINES Ballet’s Alonzo King, percussionist/rhythm dancer Keith Terry, choreographer Margaret Jenkins and Joffrey Ballet’s Julia Adam, among others. And since 2008, he has composed original scores for a number of his works. 

As a choreographer, Moses has created works for an array of noteworthy companies and organizations, from Philadanco and the African Cultural Exchange, to Cincinnati Ballet and Transitions Dance Company of the Laban Center in London.

Also a well-known and sought-after instructor, he has served on the dance faculty of Stanford University since 1995. 

Moses’ propensity for tapping into such a vast range of styles and experiences is a testament to his versatility.

Fittingly, Fable and Faith features a hodge-podge of music. Portions are songs of Shakespearean text. There are choral segments featuring the ethereal voices of the San Francisco Boys Chorus (recorded for touring performances; they have sung live in their hometown productions). Paul Carbonara, a former, latter-day member of the New Wave band Blondie, created other musical parts.

“The music is a little all over the place,” Moses says, “which makes it fun, because the tales are all over the place, and it kind of comes together to make one story.”

Whatever genres, themes or stories his work demands, Moses wants people to see dance and enjoy it, to be swept away. Even to places you dare to imagine ... right along with the kids. 


ROBERT MOSES’ KIN, presented by Contemporary Dance Theater, performs

Fable and Faith at the Aronoff Center March 23-24.

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