Kyle Abraham at Danspace Project
Kyle Abraham is working a successful mix of dazzle and poignancy to great effect. Last weekend, he premiered “The Radio Show” to packed houses at Danspace Project. He’s been on my watch list since seeing his solo and group works, “Brick” and “The Dripping Kind” at Dance Theater Workshop two years ago. Last summer, I joined his little group during an audience break-out session in the midst of David Dorfman’s “Disavowal,” also presented by Danspace Project. Audience members were supposed to sit with the cast member/character we most identified with. He had served as a powerful antagonist, challenging white guilt and entitlement. I don’t see myself as “Angry Black Man,” but those of us who are at the margins of the Marked half of the spectrum end up there some of the time. Up close and personal, he was immediately warm and receiving. A ferocious out package wrapped around a sweet center. I was already a fan, I became an admirer.
A solo he showed during Camille A. Brown’s season at Joyce Soho revealed his continued explorations in smashing formal and popular dance forms together. As then, he continues to use music and sound in “The Radio Show” as obvious sign posts for the converging and sometimes oppositional aesthetic forces at work, setting Beyonce next to pulsing static in the same way he throws a pirouette next to a hair toss or shoulder roll. His own ability to rapidly shift between vernacular and classical dance forms is impressive and part of the great allure of his work, but he’s showing more skill at highlighting the outstanding abilities of his virtuosic dancers and letting them rip across some cultural borders.
“The Radio Show” is a memorial of sorts, as well, both to a former hometown radio station, AM860/FM 106.7 in Pittsburgh and and to the father he is losing to Alzheimer’s. There is potent grief in the shaking crumple that follows an explosive series of bound and electric chest pops and arm swings. But, there is also the excitement at watching an artist pull both the kinesthetic and emotional meanings out of popularized movement and back into the highly personal realm it came from. Like Bruno Beltrao, Abraham captures the spirit inside of various hip hop movement practices and culture. Unlike Beltrao, however, Abraham is sometimes too enamored with the classical dance technique that is also an ingrained part of his heritage. There are moments where I feel as though the physical, sonic, visual juxtapositions of high/low are a battle, rather than a Both. For me, the excitement (and my grand expectation about where I’ll see both of these artists showing there work a few years down the line) is in watching how artists today can tear down the bias against hip hop that seethes through certain populations and ignores it’s prevalence and impact on dance globally. Abraham has it in him to be everything, all at once, soon enough his will too.