I’ve been excited to see Pavement, the new work by Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, since I first heard about it almost a year ago (I even tweeted about it!). His work, The Radio Show, at the American Dance Festival in 2012 seamlessly combined beautiful movement with a meaningful, moving and cleverly told story of a family dealing with dementia. So when I learned that Abraham was returning to ADF with another theme not often visited in a theater setting — urban life, hip-hop culture, gang violence — it was the show I knew I wouldn’t miss.
Opening night, the stage was set with a basketball goal, the backboard of which displayed a changing scene of urban buildings. Abraham entered alone, walking casually onto the stage, and I was immediately intrigued. He has a commanding stage presence, even in the simple act of walking.
Pavement had the feel of a street ballet. It reminded me immediately of Carolina Ballet’s recent performance of hip-hop in tu-tus (A Street Symphony). Pavement was not hip-hop but modern studio dance in street clothes in an urban setting. After seeing both of these pieces I’ve realized that bad-ass street attitudes don’t easily translate to a theater setting.
It was a short and incomplete program at barely an hour. Scenes changed quickly and disjointedly from a few dancers acting out street scenes of friendship or violence to the ensemble of seven in awkwardly contrived dance numbers that neither contributed to the story nor linked the segments.
The ensemble included only one woman. A choreographer may choose for aesthetic reasons to use only men or only women, or gender may be irrelevant, as it seemed in Shen Wei’s ADF premiere Collective Measures earlier this summer (although there was still a balanced assortment of gender). But this was a slice of life for a real culture, and a real culture has more than one woman.
Like Radio Show, Pavement included a variety of sounds, including a wide variety of music, police radio emergency response recordings, live speaking voices, and the sound of gunshots. But it lacked the emotional depth of Radio Show. The one exception was a scene where Abraham begged passersby for help and was eventually alone, screaming for help in the dark.
The musical variety, from old blues to Motown to classical, alluded to the cultures and communities beyond the ‘hood that carried on ignorant or unconcerned about the daily trials of people there. The concept of an invisible society, or of a society’s numb acceptance of violence and death was effectively communicated in several ways, including a scene where the stage was so dark that the dancers, in full and large movement, were barely visible.
The full ensemble dance segments were powerful and stood on their own. The choreography was dynamic and explosive and the dancers were sublime.
Creating art is about taking risks. Abraham is not afraid to take risks, and the thoughtful work he’s doing is valuable. He has a deep artistic vision and a drive to put relevant themes in front of audiences. His sophisticated aesthetic sense means that in whatever ways it might be lacking, you can just sit back and enjoy the view.
See the show tonight, June 29, at 8:00 pm at DPAC.