Tag Archives: Kyle Abraham

Abraham Takes ‘A.I.M’ at Greatness with Akron Program


AIM_Drive_Claude+CJ+Johnson_Connie+Shiau_Catherine+Ellis+Kirk_Photo+by+Ian+Douglas

A.I.M’s Connie Shiau, Claude Johnson and Catherine Ellis Kirk in Kyle Abraham’s “Drive”. Photo by Ian Douglas.

A.I.M
University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 6, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Having followed Kyle Abraham’s career since he was a teen in Pittsburgh, his talents and potential as a dancer and choreographer revealed themselves early on. Seemingly in short order, the dance world began taking notice of those talents lauding him with accolades and awards including being named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2009 and becoming the youngest recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant 2013. And while Abraham’s individual career continues to skyrocket, the trajectory of his namesake New York-based company, Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M), founded in 2006, has been on a more gradual incline.

For those unfamiliar with A.I.M and Abraham’s work, their Northeast, Ohio debut at the University of Akron’s E. J. Thomas Hall this past Saturday, October 6, showed rather emphatically that it the company is primed to run with dance’s big dogs.

Presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with The University of Akron’s Dance Department, A.I.M’s mixed repertory program began with a company first, a dance work created on them by someone other than Abraham.

Choreographer Andrea Miller’s lush, atmospheric trio for women, “state” (2018) had the look and feel of a Beyoncé music video taken to even further artistic extremes.

AIM_state_Kayla+Farrish_Catherine+Ellis+Kirk_Marcella+Lewis_Photo+by+Steven+Schreiber_01

A.I.M’s Kayla Farrish, Catherine Ellis Kirk and Marcella Lewis in Andrea Miller’s “state”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

On a stage barely lit by rear floor lights dancers Kayla Farrish, Catherine Ellis Kirk and Marcella Lewis in silhouette with their backs to the audience, shuffled side to side grooving to Pittsburgh-native Reggie Wilkins’ electronic chill vibe hip hop music.

Miller, the artistic director and vision behind New York’s Gallim Dance, is best known for her Israeli-style contemporary dance works. In working with the dancers on “state,” Miller acted more as a director/editor taking movement generated by them and assembling it into a brilliantly unexpected piece that wrapped around the dancers like a cozy sweater.

Performed on an earth-tone square of dance floor with the dancers costumed in muted colored tops and shorts with shiny gold painted patches on their knees and fingers, the contemporary dance work infused with African, hip hop, Israeli folk and other dance styles, looked ritualistic at times as well as exalting of the women. Parceled into sections reflecting various states of being both emotionally and attitudinally, the dancers moved mostly in unison throughout the work, rocking, bouncing and swaying in simple-looking yet slick choreography.

Where the work’s opening section had the trio of women appearing goddess-like, its second section with its sparse and somewhat ugly movement that had the dancers crab-walking and lying on the stage floor in fetal positions had a troubled feel to it.

AIM_state_Marcella+Lewis_Photo+by+Steven+Schreiber_01 (1)

A.I.M’s Marcella Lewis in Andrea Miller’s “state”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

The work then shifted moods several more times as it progressed with one section showing off the dancers in mini-solos before returning to its infectious opening groove to end the piece.

Keeping with the theme of states of being, Abraham’s latest solo for himself “INDY” (2018), at over 20-minutes is perhaps his longest to date. Like avant-garde jazz or the music of bands like the Pixies and Nirvana that abruptly switch from hard to soft passages in the same song, Abraham’s signature movement style moves abruptly from sinewy smooth, calm phrases to frenetic, hyper-speed riffs that have his arms circling and darting about, hips swiveling and torso twisting in the blink of an eye and back again. In “INDY,” Abraham came right out of the gate in that full-on frenzy mode, a flurry of hands and arms clearing the air and space around him as if cloud of hovering bees descended on him from above; the activity sending the fringed back of his all black costume into violent motion.

AIM_INDY_Kyle+Abraham_Photo+by+Steven+Schreiber_01

Kyle Abraham in “INDY”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

 

AIM_INDY_Kyle+Abraham_Photo+by+Steven+Schreiber_07

Kyle Abraham in “INDY”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Set to an original score by Cleveland-native and Juilliard faculty member, Jerome Begin and in front of a target-like circular patterned backdrop, Abraham strutted and moved about the stage in various states of confidence.  From rounded shoulder, arm-swaying machismo to vogue-like prancing, the schizophrenic solo was a microcosm of Abraham’s signature movement style.  Toward the end of the solo, Abraham slowed the piece to a halt. As an audio recording of his college graduation ceremony played in the background, Abraham stripped off his costume and with it all of those states of confidence. The brief, vulnerable and revealing moment was a reminder of the fragile human beneath the stage façade. Donning his fringed shirt again, this time with the fringe in the front, Abraham returned to the virtuosic solo this time adding the silent screams and the pleading of someone whose confidence had been replaced by fear and doubt.

While “INDY” showed off Abraham’s major talents as a dancer, his new group work for the company, “Meditation: A Silent Prayer” (2018), revealed a choreographer at the top of his game in craft, theatricality, and having the pulse of the world he lives and works in.

AIM_Meditation+A+Silent+Prayer_Jeremy+Jae+Neal_Photo+by+Steven+Schreiber_01

A.I.M’s Keerati Jinakunwiphat and Jeremy “Jae” Neal in Kyle Abraham’s ““Meditation: A Silent Prayer”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

AIM_Meditation+A+Silent+Prayer_Jeremy+Jae+Neal_Marcella+Lewis_Photo+by+Steven+Schreiber_01

A.I.M’s Jeremy “Jae” Neal and Marcella Lewis in Kyle Abraham’s ““Meditation: A Silent Prayer”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Danced to somber music by Craig Harris with haunting text and voiceover by Carrie Mae Weems, “Meditation: A Silent Prayer” was a heart-wrenching statement on black lives lost to police violence.

Performed in front of Titus Kaphar’s masterful yet eerie projected portraits of a trio of layered faces containing images of those being honored in the work, the blurred faces along with Weems’ stark roll call of their names, ages and familial titles including Cleveland’s own Tamir Rice, put into laser focus the injustice of those lives tragically cut short by police violence.

A gut check on our collective humanity, “Meditation: A Silent Prayer,” stands as one of Abraham’s finest works to date.

AIM_Drive_Photo+by+Ian+Douglas+1

Jeremy “Jae” Neal, Marcella Lewis, Matthew Baker, Keerati Jinkakunwiphat and Claude Johnson in Kyle Abraham’s “Drive”. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Switching gears, the final work on the program, Abraham’s “Drive” (2017) featured all eight of A.I.M’s dancers (sans Abraham) in an up-tempo tour de force that Abraham describes as an abstract statement on unity in the face of societal ills.

Set to pulsating electronic hip hop music by Theo Parrish and Mobb Deep, the work with its city traffic lighting effects, was an invigorating non-stop showcase for the dancers who performed it brilliantly and an apt closer for A.I.M’s stellar program.

Next on DANCECleveland’s 63rd season is Ballet Hispanico, Saturday, November 10 and Sunday, November 11 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. For information and tickets visit dancecleveland.org.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2018, DANCECleveland

Wendy Whelan’s ‘Restless Creature’ a sumptuous dance memory to cherish (review)


Wendy Whelan and Alejandro Cerrudo in Cerrudo's

Wendy Whelan and Alejandro Cerrudo in Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

By Steve Sucato
Special to the Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Following in the footsteps of other ballet stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov that made late-career transitions from ballet to contemporary dance styles, former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, seeing the writing on the wall after 30-years with NYCB, launched her Wendy Whelan New Works Initiative.

What has been remarkable about Whelan’s transition more so than most, is rather than easing into the change, she cliff-dived into it. In short order, even before her official retirement from NYCB last October, she began crash courses with four different dancer/choreographers in four movement languages foreign to the way her body was used to moving to create “Restless Creature,” the first production in her New Works Initiative.

The hourlong program co-presented by DANCECleveland and Playhouse Square at the Ohio Theatre Saturday night more than lived up to its pre-show hype giving the assembled audience a sumptuous dance memory to cherish for some time.

The critically-acclaimed suite of four duets danced by Whelan and her four male dancer/choreographer partners began with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago resident choreographer/dancer Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu” (2013).

Danced to music by Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds and others, Cerrudo entered the stage first pouring forth contemporary dance movement in a solo that had his outstretched limbs leading his body into swooping dips and rises, careening turns and liquidly smooth sways. Whelan then joined him dancing with similar fluidity.

While not quite as silky smooth as Cerrudo, the waif-like and powerful Whelan’s carriage seemed to have shed a fair amount of its ballet rigidity since “Restless Creature” premiered in 2013. Both dancers were magical. Their partnering was elegant and effortless in Cerrudo’s divine choreography that even gave a nod to Balanchine’s iconic “Serenade,” a ballet Whelan must have danced countless times.

Wendy Whelan and Joshua Beamish in Beamish's

Wendy Whelan and Joshua Beamish in Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Choreographer Joshua Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences” (2015) was perhaps the least stretch for Whelan in terms of movement language. The courtly duet was infused with ballet steps and poses along with some tricky off-count starts and stops. But while Beamish and Whelan performed the call and response choreography expertly, they seemed to lack onstage chemistry and the work seemed to drag out and repeat itself.

Kyle Abraham’s “The Serpent and The Smoke” (2013) proved the evening’s most dramatic and resplendent work. Set to music by Hauschka and Hildur Guanadottir, the piece began with Abraham, aflutter like a whirling dervish, launching himself into a sequence of rapid turns and arm movements.

Wendy Whelan and Kyle Abraham in Abraham's

Wendy Whelan and Kyle Abraham in Abraham’s “The Serpent and The Smoke.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

As a dancer, Abraham has a most distinctive way of moving that blends modern, contemporary and hip hop styles into seemingly steroid fueled movement riffs counterbalanced by tender moments of graceful serenity. Whelan bought into Abraham’s movement language wholeheartedly in her performance, circling him at the outset as if stalking him as he looked on captivated by her wispy movement around him. The two, simpatico in their dancing brilliance, exuded strength, sensuality and rare beauty in the riveting duet.

The program concluded with the Brian Brooks gem “First Fall.” To a score by Philip Glass, Brooks and Whelan melted into each other’s arms moving up and down across the stage like on a rapidly moving stream. Brooks’ modern dance choreography a la choreographer Doug Varone, was exceedingly pleasant to watch as were the two dancers in it.

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks in Brooks'

Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks in Brooks’ “First Fall.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In its latter stages, the pair engaged in a repeated sequence where Whelan fell trusting backwards onto a crouched Brooks’ back and then he slowly rose up carrying Whelan with him. The effect, and the work, was spellbinding.

With the diverse and immensely gratifying “Restless Creature,” Whelan showed she hasn’t lost any of her star quality. She and her partners danced brilliantly. Most impressive and promising for her future after ballet though was her deft choices of partners and the works they created for her.

This article first appeared in The Plain Dealer online on April 27, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Plain Dealer

Another strong outing for Point Park’s ‘Contemporary Choreographers’ showcase


Randy Duncan's "Journey". Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Randy Duncan’s “Journey”. Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

One thing I have learned over a decade of reviewing Point Park University‘s Conservatory Dance Company’s shows is that they rarely contain a dull moment. The 2013 version of CDC’s annual Contemporary Choreographers program, this past Saturday, was no different.

Fate brought former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist Terence Marling back to Pittsburgh — or at least the subject did. Of his new work “Fatum Inflictum,” created for the CDC, Marling says: “The basic image to start was a door with Fate on the other side.” Marling fittingly set the comedic contemporary dance work to the first movement of Beethoven’s familiar Symphony No. 5 in C minor (sometimes referred to as “Fate”). Wearing T-shirts, shorts, striped knee socks and Marilyn Manson-style eye makeup, 20 dancers looking like a zombie gym class ran amok. Crouched like wrestlers and ready to foam at the mouth, the wild-eyed dancers stomped about, fell to the floor and, led by dancer Carlos Jimenez, grunted and shouted at each other in some unintelligible language. A raucous romp, Marling’s wonderfully crafted work blended a frat-party spirit with fine acting and dancing.

Pittsburgh native and recent MacArthur “genius award” recipient Kyle Abraham‘s “Continuous Relation” set a different tone. Danced to static-infused electronic music by Finnish duo Pan Sonic, the abstract work for 15 dancers utilized Abraham’s signature fusion of stylized modern dance and hip-hop movement. The latter style looked more comfortable for some CDC dancers than others, but Nile Ruff was one standout; sweeping head moves, the elongating of limbs, and sharp turns flowed nicely from her. Also notable was the intense dancing of Schuyler Whittemore and Kelly Ramis.

Randy Duncan's "Journey". Photo by Jeff Swensen.

Randy Duncan’s “Journey”. Photo by Jeff Swensen.

The evening’s most technically polished and adroitly danced work was Brian Enos’ “Whip.” Set to atmospheric world music, the work began with its six dancers piled atop each other like corpses. The dancers arose one by one to drift into beautifully spaced and sharply interwoven choreography laced with rapid turns, lifts and whipping dance moves. Led by the spitfire solo dancing of Vanessa Guinto, the cast performed exquisitely.

The program closed with Randy Duncan’s “Journey.” The large group work fused traditional African dance movement with contemporary styles in a crowd-pleasing piece that, like Doug Brush’s music for it, built in intensity to a climactic ending.

Conservatory Dance Company’s Contemporary Choreographers continues through Sun., Nov. 24. George Rowland White Performance Studio, 201 Wood St., Downtown. $7-20. 412-392-8000 or pittsburghplayhouse.com

This review originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper November 20, 2013. Copyright Steve Sucato.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2013, Pittsburgh City Paper