News Column

New Haven Arts & Ideas program embraces physicality of dance

June 16, 2014

By Donna Doherty, New Haven Register, Conn.

June 16--NEW HAVEN -- There was a time that the city was starved for contemporary dance, which is why area danceophiles turned out in droves for the dance programming at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

That's not true anymore, but the appetite is still robust for fest dance events, attracting both veteran aficionados and the newly ardent.

Neither will be disappointed by two special companies at the 2014 festival: Brooklyn-based Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group performs its bold and inspirational work "Moses(es)" June 18-21 at University Theatre, and the locally based Adele Myers and Dancers steps into its first featured role at the fest with "Einstein's Happiest Thought," June 24-28 at Iseman Theater.

Both will have related activities to discuss the creative process and inspiration for their works (see them at

Inspired partly by Zora Neale-Hurston's book "Moses, Man of the Mountain," Wilson's work is a multilayered exploration of migration of people and cultures.

While iconic giants of history feature in the titles of both works, Wilson notes, "I think the point to make is this Moses piece is not about the narrative of the Moses story. It's dance. So it's abstract."

Wilson reread the book to prep for a research trip to Israel in 2010, and that, and conversations with a Moses scholar, ultimately led him to thinking of movement, from ancient Egypt and its relationship to Africa, the whole African diaspora and ultimately the African-American journey.

"I think humans migrate. It's just that simple ...," he says. "And movement doesn't manifest itself in the mind. It does it in the body."

Who starts the movement and how one gets others to follow opened a discussion of leadership, he says. "We're not trying to tell the story (of Moses). The piece is really more about the questions that I encountered thinking about the story. The key thing we keep coming back to is leading and following. If there's a theme that comes up in Zora's book it's how does somebody come to leadership, why do people follow somebody. It could be religious, it could be political, romantic or completely physical."

The piece is an equal-opportunity melding of movement he calls "post-Africa/Neo-HooDoo modern"; music that combines original works by Lawrence Harding and pre-recorded music featuring gospel, jazz, Louis Armstrong, the Klezmatics and The Blind Boys of Alabama, among others, with live music onstage, vocals and the scholarly research.

His dancers, he says in their website video about the work, were selected for a variety of technical styles, "even their own."

"... Something I like to do is not hide the difference and to allow people to play to their strength, even though it's still my dance and choreography. Part of the process is for them to find themselves in it -- take the idea of the movement, rhythm and find their articulation of it."

Wilson brought in a dramaturg, Susan Manning, for the first time in his career, to help provide historical context and help research the 90-minute piece, an exercise he calls "trying to validate the potential for dance to have serious thinking, rigorous thinking going somewhere different than what a novel would do or a white paper, that there's serious thinking and reflection going on about big ideas, as well as the human condition that I think, no pun intended, dance fleshes out ..."

And that intriguing title? It's Wilson's way of pluralizing the name Moses to postulate the idea that "there isn't just one Moses," as suggested by Israeli professor Avigdor Shinan with whom he conferred in his research.

"For me, it was kind of a way to indicate to the audience that it's not again THE Moses and the Moses story. It can be anyone from the Prince of Egypt to Charlton Heston to Barack Obama to Harriet Tubman, this idea of leaders. How do we accept somebody to take us places where we have never been before?"

In Wilson's world, dance is the vehicle.

Donna Doherty is the former arts editor for the New Haven Register.


Event: Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group's "Moses(es)"

When: 8 p.m.June 18-20, 5 p.m.June 21

Where: University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven

Tickets: $35 and $55

Info: 203-562-5666,

Etc.: See discussion schedule at


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Source: New Haven Register (CT)

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