A review of Abraham.In.Motion, a New York-based dance company visiting Seattle March 4-5, 2015.
In the eight years since New York-based dancemaker Kyle Abraham founded his own company, he has won critical and popular acclaim for his unique choreographic style and a thoughtfulness borne of his experience as a gay black man.
With three pieces that Abraham has created under the rubric “When the Wolves Came In” (also the title of the first work), he demonstrates once again his capacity for striking visual imagery, inventive movement and emotional depth. All three are inspired by jazz drummer/composer Max Roach’s 1960 protest album “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite” but it’s only the third work, “The Gettin’,” that deals explicitly with racism.
Set to an original jazz score by Robert Glasper, “The Gettin’” opens with an exuberant surge of group dancing as six dancers hurl themselves this way and that in a series of daredevil leaps and turns. It’s a deceptive beginning, however, as the movement evolves first into a contemplative trio for one man and two women, then to an emotional duet for two men and ultimately a final tableaux of a solitary woman walking across the stage. It’s not obvious whether she is triumphant or bereft but that ambiguity makes the ending all the more poignant.
Kyle Abraham/ Abraham.In.Motion
8 p.m. March 5, The Moore Theatre, 1932 2nd Ave., Seattle; $32.50-52.50 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
Explicit references to racism are made with scenes of segregation and apartheid in the U.S. and South Africa projected against the huge backdrop. The images are so compelling, it’s sometimes hard to focus on the dancers, but doing so is well worth the effort. The troupe’s nine performers are exceptionally versatile, able to easily manage the physical and emotional demands of Abraham’s eclectic mix of ballet, Brazilian capoeira and other contemporary dance forms.
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Unlike “The Gettin’,” the first two works on the program are pure dance pieces and the fact that they don’t have a clear narrative thread allows us to appreciate the diversity of Abraham’s style.
“When the Wolves Came In,” set to choral music by the classical composer Nico Muhly, opens with a spellbinding image of an African-American woman in an enormous auburn beehive wig and an almost ghostly Caucasian male with long white hair. Slowly they begin a sinewy duet beneath a backdrop of shadowy hooded figures, gently manipulating each other’s bodies. As the ballet proceeds, three more women in beehives and two other men appear as Abraham unspools a riveting series of turns, arabesques and twists. Are the dancers aliens from another planet or some form of exotic animal life? Abraham keeps us guessing, allowing us to imbue the action with our own interpretation and meaning.
In “Hallowed,” three dancers slice the air with extended arms and legs to gospel hymns by Cleo Kennedy and Bertha Gober. Jeremy “Jae” Neal is the central character, elastic and sensuous as he leads his two female partners through a series of off-center balances, head rolls and full body gyrations. It’s the shortest, most coherent ballet on the program and the most attuned to its score, demonstrating Abraham’s prodigious skill in bringing music alive through movement.
This article was corrected on March 5, 2015. In an earlier version, Robert Glasper’s name was misstated.