University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.