Wednesday, May 2, 2018

His A.I.M. is true: Kyle Abraham's Joyce season

Claude CJ Johnson, Connie Shiau and Catherine Ellis Kirk
of A.I.M. perform Kyle Abraham's Drive.
(photo: Ian Douglas)

No half-measures. No uncertainty. Kyle Abraham is at The Joyce Theater this week with his newly-renamed troupe, A.I.M., doing things to the max.

This season--which makes room for dances by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, world premieres by Andrea Miller and Abraham as well as the Joyce commission of his first solo performance in nearly a decade--feels like a bold announcement of a new phase in the life and career of this award-winning artist. In an opening-night audience packed with New York's dance notables and media, it also felt like the place to be.

Program A opens with the Miller trio, state, where a knife-sharp trio of Black women--Kayla Farrish, Catherine Ellis Kirk and Marcella Lewis, with whom Miller collaborated--splash their stark images, live or via looming shadows, against the pale glow of a backdrop. They resemble stylish fashion models distorting their bodies out of mundane functionality into nifty abstractions for the eye of photographers and magazine readers; a fascination grows with the hypnotic observation of their physical capabilities and precision design, their aggressive flair. Reggie Wilkins's music underscores a certain sci-fi otherworldliness in this picture as does Nicole Pearce's lighting design--but she's got even more astonishing ideas for Abraham's solo, INDY.

Created with composer-pianist Jerome Begin, INDY is a work of emergence, search and breakthrough, as moving as it is beautiful to behold. It reveals itself slowly, literally coming out of mist. In its early moments, I see aspects of the dancer I remember from way back: part b-boy/part voguer, the latter's effortlessly slinky moves a form of catnip for this audience. (Let me pause, a minute, to throw a few !!!s behind the name of designer Karen Young whose black slacks/top costume, with its thick bands of fringe, throws more than a few !!!s around Abraham's gyrations: Karen Young!!!). But with the spreading of his arms and the parting of the black curtain behind him, Abraham moves on from this image of himself.

We find him shuddering, his arms locked behind his back as if his wrists are handcuffed. Pearce's lighting, here and throughout, arrives from the oddest places and in the strangest ways. She is a fount of surprises, stepping up to the challenge of choreographer ready to surprise himself and all who follow him. Begin's sound chamber suddenly erupts in an audio clip of a voice announcing Abraham's BFA graduation. The dancer strips down to briefs to move around like an awkward, broken marionnette.

The work's fully-revealed, eye-popping visual design suggests a well-ordered cosmos--external and containing the dancer or internal and generative of his evolution, perhaps both. The Abraham we see now has unshackled himself from our and, likely, his own expectations.

With Meditation: A Silent Prayer, another Abraham world premiere, made in collaboration with his performers, the choreographer returns to a concern that has informed his works in previous years--the precarious existence of Black lives in white supremacist society; specifically, the unrelenting roll call of deaths of Blacks at the hands of police. The ensemble gently performs moments of human connection before Titus Kaphar's backdrop-spanning mural of what, at first, might seem to be looming images of three distinct Black faces. Instead, you come to realize, the three are blurs made to look like multiple, overlapped and moving faces. We hear a litany of ages, family roles and names, written and read in voiceover by artist Carrie Mae Weems. In addition to Kaphar and Weems, the notable creative team for Meditation includes Craig Harris (music), Dan Scully (lighting) and Young (costumes).

This program--as well as Program B--ends with Drive, an Abraham collaboration with A.I.M. which was a hit of the 2017 Fall for Dance Festival at City Center. More tight work by the ensemble, more stunning lighting by Scully, and the asserted conviction that--when ready--you can just pick up and go wherever you choose to go. A.I.M. is ready.


Kyle Abraham, Kayla Farrish, Catherine Ellis Kirk, Marcella Lewis, Tamisha Guy, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Jeremy "Jae" Neal, Matthew Baker and Claude "CJ" Johnson


A.I.M.'s Joyce season runs through Sunday, May 6 with two programs and varying start times as follows:

Program A (approx. 1hr 40 min)

Tuesday (7:30pm), Friday (8pm) and Saturday (2pm)

state (World Premiere) by Andrea Miller
INDY (World Premiere) by Kyle Abraham
Meditation: A Silent Prayer (World Premiere) by Kyle Abraham
Drive by Kyle Abraham

Program B (approx. 1 hr 20 min)

Wednesday (7:30pm), Thursday and Saturday (8pm) and Sunday (2pm)

Strict Love by Doug Varone
Habits of Attraction by Bebe Miller
Meditation: A Silent Prayer (World Premiere) by Kyle Abraham
Drive by Kyle Abraham

For information and tickets, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan

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1 comment:

Brad said...

A beautiful piece on this stunning work. I stayed for the second half tonight - Wednesday - and was haunted by the eyes of the countless lost black and brown souls. Those images were a dance unto themselves. With the addition tonight of Varone's piece, as tight and crisp as the first piece last night and the stunning, fluid and magnificently danced Bebe Miller work, I am complete! What a journey.

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