Saturday, November 5, 2016

Kyle Abraham's neighborhood remains in motion

Choreographer Kyle Abraham
dances in Pavement.
(photo: Carrie Schneider)

What does it mean to bring a Black neighborhood into theatrical space? Like the Black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, where dance artist Kyle Abraham grew up, or historically Black sections of Brooklyn where Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion finishes its season at BAM Fisher this evening?

It takes more than lining the space with a chain-linked fence and basketball hoop, evocative though those details certainly are. It takes a sensibility large enough and a skill sharp enough to reflect the complexity of Black life through the power of dance imagery.

What other artists have done so well between the covers of a book or across a movie screen, Abraham strives to do in the hour-long Pavement, first commissioned by Harlem Stage and shown there in the fall of 2012 as the city reeled from Hurricane Sandy. That show went on even as the troupers had to make do without their set, stored away in New Jersey. The fence and hoop (and a projection that features No Loitering signs) appear in the BAM production, establishing, for our benefit, a literal sense of place.

But a neighborhood is more than its coordinates. It lives in its rhythms--its music, its laughter, its glances, its gestures of kinship, its anger and hair-trigger aggression, its desires and its hopes. With his brief, opening solo to gruff blues, Abraham first directs us to look for and read these rhythms in movements that are both hunched and earthy. Nothing's realer than the wide, boisterous roll of his pelvis. But Abraham, as choreographer, can be indirect and elusive, suspending any interpretation-minded viewer in a limbo of ambiguity because there's just so much on his page.

When a white man wraps his arms around a Black man, pulls him to the floor, face down, and gently folds the man's arms behind his back, you read many things at once. The softness of the energy between the men. The unexpected compliance of the brother. The iconic and traumatically internalized image that cannot be severed from too many videos of Black men subdued or slain by cops.

Later in the piece, dancers lower themselves atop one another in the same downward, hands-restrained position--with the same gentleness, willingness, inevitability. You see bodies piling up as Sam Cooke croons a love song--I belong to your heart /You alone can possess me/No one else can caress me /I belong to your heart--and it is simply too much to easily process.

I remember interviewing a wunderkind Abraham in 2008--a year of Hope with a capital H--and asking him some trite question about Obama. Now it is eight years later. How many Black men and women have been incarcerated or murdered by the police since that year of capital H hope? The shades of our dead pass through Pavement and cannot be ignored.

I'm intrigued by the half of the stage that often stays empty while dancers bunch in formation in the other half. I'm intrigued by the breadth of Abraham's embrace--Bach to Donny Hathaway--and the compression of contemporary dance, West African dance, ballet and hip hop, dancers confidently switching codes through these distinct states of being. They both acknowledge and defy the limitations of theater space, representing lived experience, culture and intimacy within its make-believe confines. They make a neighborhood.

With performances by Kyle Abraham, Matthew BakerVinson Fraley, Jr.Tamisha GuyThomas HouseChalvar MonteiroJeremy "Jae" Neal and Kevin Ricardo Tate

Pavement concludes this evening with a performance at 7:30pm. For tickets and information, click here.

BAM Fisher (Fishman Space)
 321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn

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