Review: Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion at Jacob’s Pillow
The last of three emerging choreographers given a Pillow Creative Development Residency is on stage this week at Jacob’s Pillow, and from Inventing Pookie Jenkins, the stunning solo he presented at the Pillow gala—which is also on this week’s program—it is easy to see why this honor was bestowed upon Kyle Abraham. His stage presence is riveting, whether he’s furiously slicing across the stage with limbs of lightning or assuming the slinky street bravado bounce of a gangsta rapper. He holds our attention even standing stock still, only to shuffle slowly with a Parkinsons-disease-like tremor in one hand or crumple slowly forward into a hunched over posture, two recurring moves that add a somber tone to out his high-adrenaline ode to the radio stations and music of his Pittsburgh roots, The Radio Show.
Abraham’s choreographic vocabulary is as diverse as his choice of music, which ranges from R&B classics from the likes of Gladys Knight & The Pips and The Shirelles (which he has programmed to set the mood in the Doris Duke Theatre during the program’s intermission, or, as he calls it, the Preshow), to Bach, to the alt-emo of Antony & The Johnsons, to today’s pop goddess Lady Gaga, to of-the-moment hip-hop. And so his dances seamlessly integrate elements of classic ballet, old-school and post-modern dance, break-dance popping and locking, dance-floor sensuality, and even butoh.
As Inventing Pookie Jenkins begins, you could be watching a butoh work. Abraham is seated shirtless in a puddle of tulle, one arm arcing slowly, gracefully through the air, then snaking around his back. He rises as if hoisted by a puppeteers’ strings. He repeats this sequence to a stop-and-go recording of sirens and gun shots, eventually revealing that he’s in a long tutu, then picking up an outsized boom box along with a street thug’s strut. He carries both into the audience, walking out to shake hands with a few viewers, accompanied by a Dizzee Rascal tune with the repeated refrain, “You’re going to respect me, if it kills you.” Like Walt Whitman, Abraham contains multitudes – softness and hard edges, masculine and feminine – so deal with it.
The dancers in his company are also able to pull off this fierce “Don’t put me in a box/Take me as I am” attitude. Throughout The Radio Show there are moments of similar theatrical intensity and powerful, explosive movement that require them to go from zero the 90 in one second. Still, when Abraham reappears onstage after an absence, you notice that you’ve missed him. He is noticeably absent from OP. 1, the world premiere developed in part at the Pillow set to a tonal electronic score by Ryoji Ikeda, and the piece lacks a certain center. It does share with The Radio Show several repeated signature moves: a held kneeling position, like a runner’s stance; and floorwork in which the dancers lie on the floor and arch up, reaching their ribcages to the sky. The graphic elements – animations projected on a sheer scrim; a light-formed stage within the stage – reinforce the work’s relationship to the photography of Muybridge, creating grids that recall the photographer’s successive shots of wrestlers, one of Muybridge’s prototypical subjects. The seriousness of Kyle Abrahams/Abraham.in.Motion is a masterful piece of programming, and a fitting counterpoint to the frou frou of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, also on the schedule during the first Weekend OUT at the Pillow.
In the Doris Duke Theatre through Sunday, August 15
Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA