ADF Takes A.I.M to DPAC: Kyle Abraham’s Stunning Style Goes Big

Kyle Abraham, who appeared for the first time last year at the American Dance Festival with his marvelous dance The Radio Show, is back this year with a two-performance run on the big stage at the Durham Performing Arts Center. He and his company Abraham.In.Motion danced Abraham’s ambitious work Pavement on June 28; the program repeats tonight, June 29. Abraham is starting to look like a new-generation Bill T. Jones. His intellectualism is not yet as deep or pointed, but he is showing a penchant for making dances about Big Stuff–without scrimping on the dancing. At least at this early stage of his career, Abraham allows more emotion to show than Jones generally does. I believe that is a good thing for the art, since its there for a reason, not as a crutch.

Kyle Abraham in Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

Kyle Abraham in Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

Abraham is a beautiful dancer (see above–look at those hands, their elegance in relation to the legs and feet), and his company all move beautifully in his style, which is a heart-stretching amalgam of ballet, modern and street dancing. He seems to have crafted this style in aid of an almost cinematic narrative form of dance theatre, and mostly it works very well. The new piece Pavement returns us to Abraham’s hometown of Pittsburgh, also the source for The Radio Show. But Pavement shows tough times in the town that was previously such a beacon for black culture. Very early on, we see a young black man laid face down on the pavement, his hands crossed in the small of his back, as if in handcuffs. This happens over and over during the piece, and the tenderness of the movements only serve to make it more searing.

Overall, Pavement could use a little tightening up. It wanders and gets a bit murky in the middle, and the balance between theatre and dance is wobbly throughout. For this viewer, there was some confusion at times about who was what to whom, as many characters flow through the seven bodies on stage. But again and again, Pavement reels you in with a powerful scene, powerfully danced. Abraham is clearly going to be a force in American dance in the 21st century, as we continue to sort out history and search for a fresh cultural vitality. A few slow spots just give the viewer time to catch up with Abraham.In.Motion.

A.I.M in a scene from Kyle Abraham's Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

A.I.M in a scene from Kyle Abraham’s Pavement. Photo: Steven Schreiber.

ADF@Pleiades Gallery

ADF student dancers improvising at Five Points.

ADF student dancers improvising at Five Points.

Continuing its joyous spread into the Durham community, the American Dance Festival teamed up with the recently-opened Pleiades Gallery at Durham’s Five Points for a fun pop-up event. Pleiades is showing dance-themed art in its current show of work by co-op members, but on the 27th several of the wonderful posters designed each year for the dance festival were on view as well.

The small bright gallery boiled with people as the student dancers and hard-core ADFers packed the place, sipping drinks and scarfing up the snacks provided by downtown businesses like Loaf and Pizzeria Toro, right next door.

The dancing began inside Pleiades Gallery, just out of the frame to the right, and flowed into the Five Points park.

The dancing began inside Pleiades Gallery, just out of the frame, right, and flowed into the Five Points park.

Music began; the crowd pressed back toward the walls, and the dancing started. After one improv dance in the gallery, the students surged outside. The crowd followed, across Chapel Hill Street into the Five Points park, where there was considerably more room to turn around. Undeterred by brick, the students jumped and twirled. I even saw somersaults. It was a not a piece of choreographic brilliance, but it sure was sweet.

In the park, various surprised people stopped to watch, uncertain but smiling. On Main, a flock of bicyclists wheeled by, waving. The downtown bike cops looked on benevolently from the point, and stopped cars when the dance ended and the people flowed back into the gallery. It was a festive hour for the Festival.

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ADF @ The Nasher: Mark Haim

This Land Is Your Land, repeats tonight only

The American Dance Festival and the Nasher Museum of Art are doing an extremely cool thing, co-presenting an unusual dance by Mark Haim in the museum’s atrium. There were two shows of This Land Is Your Land on the 25th, and there will be two more tonight, June 26. After that you will have missed your chance to see something surprising, life-affirming and–yes–cheerful.

Mark Haim, from Seattle, has been teaching in the ADF School for years (and has been an artist-in-residence at Durham’s Cassilhaus), and has a long, impressive roster of work to his credit. He is one of the 14 (Seattle-based) performers who walk, skip and turn before a striped backdrop, moving unceasingly through a series of permutations and modulated repetitions that would make Philip Glass goggle. Although the sound was a mix of country and western songs, old and new, I felt as if I were seeing music being made in the minimalist style of Glass or Reich. It was a fantastic feeling.

From Mark Haim's THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND. Photo: Tim Summers.

From Mark Haim’s THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND. Photo: Tim Summers.

The 50 minute piece has to do with contemporary city life, its river-like qualities of homogeneity and sparkling difference. The dancers appear from one side of the striped curtain, walk the line outward, turn and reverse, taking up the next position on the return, when at the same time the outermost dancer exits past the trash can, tossing in the Starbucks cup, beer can or drink cup with which each is supplied nearly all the time. They do not interact at all until very near the end, but, like fish in a river, they move near and past each other. As the dancers cycle out of our sight, they change something–cup, cap, shirt, shoes, phone, gun, etc., and the movements and tempo in the walking alter slightly with each change. It is pretty brilliant. And not even the tiniest bit self-indulgent or self-absorbed. The end could be stronger, and for some reason the last song is “Great Speckled Bird,” not “This Land Is Your Land,” but those are quibbles. This is a portrait of America that makes the bleak failings absurd, and the bright strengths joyous. We just need to keep on walking, and changing in a rainbow world.

The Nasher is small venue. There is a very limited number of chairs, and limited sitting/standing room beyond them. If you want to go, which you do, calling ahead for a ticket and getting there early are both advisable.

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