Kyle Abraham, who calls his company A.I.M (Abraham In Motion) and dedicates his work to “issues of social and historical significance” and “identity in relation to personal history,” brought a new full-length work to Jacob’s Pillow last week. His deft and daring, boundary-blurring blend of classical, postmodern and hip-hop influences came together in An Untitled Love, performed by his corps of ten stunningly supple, surprisingly playful dancers.
Among other things, the piece is a love letter to the Pittsburgh of Abraham’s youth (props include a big cordless phone and a cootie-catcher fortune teller). The evening unwraps slowly in a flowing sequence of encounters – tentative, teasing, edgy and sexy – as the dancers circle and entwine. They highlight, as he said in a recent interview, “the beauty in our [Black] culture, the way we love and love on each other.”
The connections grow out of seemingly random movement that begins with normal walking (or extreme slow-motion) and suddenly shifts into sinuous dance steps. In what Abraham calls his “postmodern gumbo,” undulating body-melds morph into jetés and pirouettes or are broken into by a breakdance move.
The set, by Dan Scully, who also designed the moody lighting, depicts a number of venues: a nightclub, a dance party, an apartment, the street, anchored by a big sparkly sofa where groups gather to relax and chat, and courting couples coo and bicker. (Patches of dialogue punctuate the storytelling-in-movement.) Projections resembling chalk-marks on the back wall make a collage of turntables, doodles and snatches of text.
As the flirtatious meetings and partings slowly resolve into tentative pairings, it’s the women who often take the lead. Or rather, the men hit on the women and then the women take the men in hand, “educating them,” as my own partner put it, “in how they want them to relate, how they want the partnering to go.” In this dynamic, the men are either self-consciously super-cool or puppyish, the women mockingly chilly or tantalizingly coy. As things progress, one or two same-sex pairings emerge.
In one amusing dialogue sequence, a guy, practically salivating, promises to take a lady out in his Cadillac “but it’s in the shop right now,” and she vows he’ll dig deep into his wallet if he wants to win her – the price of his “education.”
And though its meaning escaped me, I couldn’t help noticing that the only couple who are together from beginning to end are the only dancers who are not Black.
The piece is set to a mixtape of songs by the soulful R&B artist D’Angelo. With a couple of exceptions, all the tracks are slow-dance (or non-dance) numbers, built around repetitions and heavy off-beats which lend the piece a dreamy momentum rather than the propulsive thrust of a dance party.
Partway through, the romantic mood is briefly shattered as the soundtrack is interrupted by a recording of L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers’ sorrowful comment after the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in 2020 – “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back” – as one by one the dancers fall from their lovers’ arms onto the ground.
This week on the Ted Shawn mainstage, the Limón Dance Company celebrates its 75th anniversary by unveiling a new work, commissioned by the Pillow for its own 90th anniversary. It’s Only One Will Rise, by Burkinabe choreographer/dancer/musician Olivier Taparga. Also on the program are works by co-founders José Limón and Doris Humphrey.
These days the outdoor Leir Stage is doing double duty: hosting week-long runs as a stand-in for the festival’s second stage, which mysteriously burned down in 2020, while also staging one-off performances by other visiting companies, often presenting work developed in Pillow residencies.
This week the outdoor slot is occupied by the tap troupe Music From The Sole, performing with a live band. It’s described as celebrating “tap’s Afro-diasporic roots, particularly its connections to Afro-Brazilian dance and music, and its lineage to forms like samba, house dance and Brazilian street funk.”
Several outdoor weeks in the season are given to one-night stands by a diversity of visiting ensembles. As Festival staffer Emma Lawrence told me, “This offering fuses the Doris Duke Theatre spirit of highlighting upcoming or experimental work and the Inside/Out series of previous years, to bring incredible companies from all across the country for exclusive performances on such an iconic Pillow stage, with the classic Berkshires backdrop.”
The August 3-6 week begins with Les Ballet Afrik, a fusion of African and U.S. dance styles from Afrobeat to house and vogue. Then, Indigenous Enterprise, the Native American and Canadian collective, brings an intertribal program of songs, stories and dances from “Turtle Island” (i.e. North America, to the non-Indigenous). The multicultural, all-female percussive trio Soles of Duende celebrate their respective traditions: tap, flamenco and North Indian Kathak. And then a showcase (already sold out) by the performance ensemble from the Pillow’s training school.
The Festival’s final two weeks are also given over to outdoor one-nighters. Check out all of them here.
A.I.M & Music From The Sole
photos by Christopher Duggan
In the Valley Advocate’s present bi-monthly publication schedule, Stagestruck will continue to be a regular feature, with additional posts online. Write me at Stagestruck@crocker.com if you’d like to receive notices when new pieces appear.
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