4/9/23 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: A.I.M. By Kyle Abraham

By Walter Rutledge

A.I.M. By Kyle Abraham presented their New York season from April 4th through April 9th at the Joyce Theater. The well curated program presented five works by three choreographers including three world premieres. All the works, which ranged from dance theatre/storytelling to pure dance, fit the A.I.M. By Abraham aesthetic surprisingly well, this successfully produced a visual cohesive, but uneven evening of dance.

It has been said that the arms are the language of dance. Throughout the evening Abraham and his colleagues offered works with unencumbered port de bra and supple upper body deportment. Uproot: love and legacy by choreographer Maleek Washington exemplified Abraham’s credo. The pastoral featured scenic design by Lee “SOEMS” Beard. The springtime tree covered in white/pink blossoms on stage right, juxtaposed by two bales of hay stage left gave the work a “month in the country” feeling.

 Tamisha A. Guy and Donovan Reed masterfully unfolded Washington’s abstract narrative with a focused and almost methodical sensuality. The dancers slowly developing the endearing gestures into a rapturous harmony. At times the rich and subtle use of theme and development reminding me a drop of water on a still pond- a rhythmic tranquil adagio that enveloped all of us.

The work seamlessly transitions into a final movement for five dancers. Catherine Kirk, Donovan Reed, and Gianna Theodore completed the quintet which visually relayed heavily on levels. The ensemble continuously shifted from unison to individual/personal passages; this device assisted to bring the work to an exciting dance masala finale.

The next two works (world premieres) by Kyle Abraham, 5 Minute Dance (You Drivin?) and MotorRover, did not live up to expectation. 5 Minute Dance has a very utilitarian look. The stark movement, lighting and geometric configurations occasionally evoked an earlier era in modern dance. Although it was performed with great verve by Ashton Benn, Aimee Brotten, William Okajima and Hayden Rivas (four students from Abraham’s classes at Glorya Kaufman School of Dance of USC) the lack of thematic diversity gave the dance a look of a movement study or work in progress.

MotorRover was Abraham at his most risk taking, and experimental. The committed performances by Jamaal Bowman and Donovan Reed brought their movement conversation across the footlight and right to the audience. The work was choreographed to silence, but the lack of music/sound eventually overrode the visual interest making the work feel protracted. Then two thirds of the way through this mostly abstract work Abraham decided to sexualize the ballet.

Bowman and Reed began what can only be described as a comic gay mating ritual. The dancers took turns acting/miming out a series of sexual gestures, which included poking their butts out to each other, batting eyes, flirting, limp wrist posing and runway/vogue struts to the delight of the audience. The more the audience laughed at these hurtful and misleading stereotypes the more offensive it became. Besides, Abraham has explored this issue many times before, and so this “been there done that” reimagining added little to the dialectic. 

The second act opened with a real bang! Tamisha A Guy embodied Bebe Miller’s tour de force solo Rain. Guy’s interpretation can only be described audacious. She moved across the stage with confidence, often spiraling onto the floor seamlessly. Even in stillness her regal erect spine, long neck and upper body deportment gave her a command presence. Rain not only showed Miller’s choreographic prowess but separated Guy from the rest of the cast.

The evening closed with Abraham’s poetic and introspective If We Were a Love Song. Set to the haunting music of Nina Simone, the work began as an ensemble dance, but soon became a series of smaller works consisting of three solos and a duet. Each work made a powerful statement even though all six of the music selections were very similar in temperament and were also all set in a largo tempo. One moment of visual wonderment was the Wild in the Wind section performed by Martell Ruffin.

Abraham’s objective for the section was to make Ruffin’s back dance/talk to us; and Ruffin rose to the occasion. As this brilliant moment enfolded a quote from Martha Graham came to mind, “Our arms start from the back because they were once wings.” The work ended with a solo performed by Guy. As the light slowly dimmed, the audience who were expecting a formal group finale were caught off guard. Another unwritten rule broken.

During the 1980’s I was a mainstay at the Sunday brunches in the loft of renowned African American artist Romare Bearden and his wife Nanette. These culinary afternoons always had a small but impressive guest list and were always deliciously informative. On one such Sunday Alvin Ailey told me that in many ways the success of Revelations was his blessing and curse. The acclaim came at the beginning of in his career, which created the public expectation that every one of the 79 dances created throughout his career would be his next Revelation. Can you imagine the pressure?

It takes courage to create. To push past public expectations and to fearlessly explore, take risk, redefined and challenge your craft. Abraham courageously presented an evening of thoughtful and sophisticated dance, and we expect him to continue risk taking and pushing boundaries. It wouldn’t be A.I.M. if he didn’t.  

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