Only a handful of contemporary choreographers could pull off an evening of the magnitude and excellence that Kyle Abraham did last night, together with his 8-member dance company, Abraham.in.Motion, at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.
For this type of presentation, that featuring the voice of a single choreographer, Kyle is now kyng.
He’s keeping it going with a new generation.
The evening’s four disparate works—each bearing a familial relationship by dint of a shared creator, shared dance language, and shared sensibility—gave a “yes” vote to an artistic model that is nearly extinct in the dance world. It’s the format by which the greats proved their mettle—Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Twyla Tharp, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor. It requires a great choreographer, the dearth of which (among other reasons) has given birth to the repertory dance company. In that set-up, three to four varying choreographers share the same bill. What Abraham offered at the Broad Stage provided an infinitely deeper, more satisfying viewing experience.
The show was a vote, as well, for the clustering of shorter works into a full-evening package. Many of today’s presenters prefer one extended work of 50-60 minutes of duration and you’re out the door. (CAP UCLA, which will present a new work by Abraham in its 2017-18 season, is big on this.) Both approaches are nice, but I like a tasty meal comprised of small courses.
The wonderful performers of Abraham’s stellar Abraham.In.Motion demonstrated the heights to which today’s highly trained, genre-busting, hyper-alert dancers can reach when they dedicate themselves to a single creator’s vision. The men, the men! Matthew Baker, a big-stepping, robust performer; Jeremy “Jae” Neal, one of my very favorite dancers who becomes ridiculously wonderful when paired with Abraham; Nehemiah Spencer, a mover of great subtlety who delivers the goods without broadcasting it. Planting their feet in the wide-legged fourth-position stance Abraham likes so well, the men slither and do the wave with their long spines. They send out craggy arms in rage, confusion, frustration that Abraham peppers in his dances with like no one else. The women! The lanky Catherine Ellis Kirk; the exquisitely detailed Connie Shiau; the curvaceous Marcella Lewis, a graduate of Lula Washington Dance Theater so excellent in “Grey,” illustrating the broken-hearted blues of Etta James.
The zenith of the evening was “Absent Matter,” set to a thumping, funky sound score by Kris Bowers and Otis Brown III, sampling from Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. The penetrating music brought fear into the room. Abraham’s harrowingly intense dance landscape for five dancers included a long solo for the Ellis Kirk, dressed in white, her long legs and Afro hair burning a hole in time and space. Abraham, too, appeared onstage as a dark figure. He erupted in a cataclysm of body squiggles and vibrations so deep that if he dug deeper, he’d be dancing inside out.
A must mention in these too-brief remarks would be “The Gettin’”’s marvelous costumes by Karen Young, a long-time Abraham collaborator. The guys looked super in neat trousers and shirt sleeves (Baker and Neal remove shirts at one point, then respectfully put them back on). Rarely do contemporary dance costumes add as much zing as Young’s big-skirted retro dresses for the ladies. In a dance that concerns South African apartheid, the swinging skirts add a tinge of innocence as they clanged like adorable bells ‘round spindly legs.
Broad Stage, we know you cannot fix your biggest problem for dance — difficult sight lines that mean poking through heads to see the dancer’s feet. But you could you fix a few ‘do-able’ things? Please include creation dates of the works in your program … just like the museum world does, just like the film world does. And … do we really need muzak to kick in right after a work ends? Please allow your audience to process art in a thoughtful way.