Dance that speaks out
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion’s The Gettin’ is among the repertoire the company will be bringing to Vancouver March 11-13 for the Chutzpah! Festival. (photo by Jerry and Lois Photography)
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion is bringing to Western Canada for the first time a sample of its acclaimed repertoire, including The Gettin’, Quiet Dance and excerpts from the company’s newest work, Dearest Home. They will perform at the Chutzpah! Festival March 11-13.
“Dearest Home is a new evening-length work that is broken up into solos and duets dealing with love, longing and loss,” explained Kyle Abraham in an interview with the Independent. “Some of the themes, and movement itself, were derived from the workshops and conversations that took place during residencies. The excerpts that are shown in this program were made during a residency at the Hopkins Centre for the Arts, Dartmouth College.”
Politics, identity, justice and freedom are some of the other themes Abraham explores in his work.
“I try to create work that reflects society as I see it,” he said. “Sometimes people see hope in that and sometimes people see the disparity that is in closer correlation to my experience growing up in this country. But, there is also purposefully the possibility of seeing both hope and disparity in my work; I think that speaks to the conflict and tensions that have been in this country for a long period of time. There are stories that are from an earlier time, but the work winds up correlating with current events basically because of the cyclical nature of history repeating itself over and over again. With that work so often comes a direct smack in the face that there is still so much more progress to be made. I like to make work that speaks to all those things.”
Religion also plays a part in some of Abraham’s creations.
“Since my parents passed, and since my mother’s more recent passing, I have had a really conflicting connection with religion and spirituality in a larger sense,” he said. “I was very curious as a child when it came to religion. I think there’s so much history in religion, in so many different ways. My parents were of different Christian faiths: my father was raised in an Episcopalian church, my mother was raised in a Baptist church, and I purposely chose to go to Hebrew school. I think that shows that I was really interested in learning about different faiths and trying to figure out where I fit in.
“It’s a tricky thing. Just because your parents believe something doesn’t mean that’s what you will believe. Just because your friends believe something doesn’t mean that’s ultimately what you’ll wind up believing yourself. But, I’ve always been curious about religion and faith in some way, shape or form, and have spent time in different religious spaces through points in my life. The last religious space I was in was a (Jewish) temple; that was in October for a friend of mine’s mother’s passing. And then, before that, it was my mother’s passing, in a Baptist church.”
While his parents weren’t artists per se, Abraham said the arts were encouraged at home, and that his parents “were really creative people because they worked in education and they had to come up with inventive ways to really push education forward in the public school system.”
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Abraham’s education in dance started relatively late in life.
“I started studying dance the summer I turned 17, when I took a boys jazz class,” he said. “The catalyst for this was seeing the Joffrey Ballet performing in Pittsburgh to Prince’s music, which was the first dance performance I ever saw. I also had some good friends that were in musical theatre that I went to raves with, and they suggested that I audition for our high school musical.”
Though he has made a career of dance, before Abraham started on that route, he studied music. And, when he took a break from dancing for a few years, it was to music he returned.
“For so much of my life, music has been my first passion,” he said. “When I was a senior in college, I thought about moving to England to study studio composition, to make electronic music, but, during that same year, I started taking company classes with Bill T. Jones. I was later offered an apprenticeship, which led to joining the company very briefly after college.
“That experience was very telling for me, because it helped me realize that even though I really loved that company and wanted to be around them, I preferred being a part of the creative space around the dancers rather than being a dancer myself within the company. I had a very hard time with making mistakes with an artist’s work that I respected so much. I felt like I was ruining the possibilities for people to be inspired by messing up, which is such a heavy burden to bear that I needed to find a healthier way into dance.
“When I quit dancing,” he said, “I started working in record stores; I would meet up with friends and I would maybe sing over some records for friends while playing around in the studio making songs. I also worked at the Andy Warhol Museum as an artist educator. During that time, I thought about different facets of my artistic interests growing up; for example, bringing in music at times, bringing in movement and finding ways we could connect those art forms to Warhol’s work. That’s primarily what I was doing with that time off.
“My way back into dance started when I was dating a visual artist. At the time, we both wanted to move to England so we thought that the best way for us to do that would be for both of us to get into school in England. I also applied to NYU [New York University], just as a backup plan in case I didn’t go to Europe – maybe I would go to NYU and see what New York was like again. We both ended up going to school in London, where I attended the [Trinity] Laban School. I went to Laban for maybe a couple months, but I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities I had to really dance: to make dance, take classes, etc. So, I left school and spent the rest of my time there focusing on trying new things (i.e. singing). I eventually moved to New York to go to NYU to figure out what my relationship to dance could be.”
Abraham received his bachelor in fine arts from the State University of New York at Purchase (2000) and his master’s from NYU (2006). He is a multiple award-winner, for both his choreography and performance. He has performed with many notable companies, and his works have been performed not only by his company, Abraham.In.Motion, which he founded in 2006, but others, as well, throughout the United States and abroad.
About one of the pieces set to have its West Coast première next weekend, Rachael Carnes of eugeneweekly.com wrote, “… The Quiet Dance, a quintet set to Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Some Other Time,’ this work built organically around simple gestures, from the swivel of knees and elbows side to side, to the slow descent of a head, alone, or against another. Abraham played with connection here, relating dancers to self and other, finding moments of counterpoint, without being heavy-handed or glossy. His organic style delved into lovely canonical structures without feeling artificial or contrived, as he boldly carved the stage space into two separate fields of vision.”
About The Gettin’, she wrote, “set to Robert Glasper’s interpretation of Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, Abraham plows even more deeply into the roots of racism, exploring the similarities between apartheid South Africa and the U.S.
“Jazzy and lyrical, yet pointed and gripping, this piece sings from a deep, guttural place.”
Abraham.In.Motion performs March 11 and 13, 8 p.m., and March 12, 7 p.m., at Rothstein Theatre. For tickets ($29.47-$36.46) and the full Chutzpah! schedule, call 604-257-5145 or visit chutzpahfestival.com.