DANCE REVIEW: A dazzling dance of life and love

The doors to the Ted Shawn Theater at Jacob’s Pillow opened early so the audience could listen to Kyle Abraham’s musical selections while gazing at a stage simply laid out with a few lounge furniture, a sofa covered in removable transparent plastic, a dining table. extremity to its left, and a three-headed lamp post to its right, on a projected red background of African images: a mask, a drum representing a sound, a pipe, a star and strange tribal symbols.

The music was intense, hard-paced and toe-tapping, reminiscent of the “soul” pop tradition of the 1970s.

The music was therefore essential to the desired atmosphere. It continually expanded throughout the performance. D’AngeloThe recorded compositions of received special importance.

Upon entering the theatre, we first heard When I see you – Fantasy, an expression of a woman’s thoughts, feelings and hopes for the man she believes will be by her side forever.

Those old enough to remember Walt Disney’s animated film, Fancyto classical music performed by a large orchestra (Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountainby Debussy Afternoon of a Faunby Stravinsky Rite of Spring, etc.) will be reminiscent of the vast Cinemascope screen and pioneering stereo sound, the preparation of which required all sorts of technical prowess. Music and image combined to create a lasting and distinctive impression.

The same goes for certain operas, including that of Giacomo Puccini Bohemian is perhaps the paradigmatic example. Many readers will recognize the emotions aroused by its brilliant integration of beautiful music and haunting drama (the libretto was composed by playwright Luigi Illica and poet Giuseppi Glacosa), parallel in many ways to that of this evening : the story of a home burdened by material scarcity, and a deep love sustained by friends and acquaintances but challenged by the prejudices and dangers of the social environment. Here too, in the words spoken throughout the performance and in the lyrics of the songs, there was poetry in the prose.

We mention Bohemia with deep respect for the magnificent artistic achievement of Kyle Abraham. We left the theater with equally profound memories and insight into the depth of the contemporary black experience and the power of home, friendship, compassion and love to overcome its unjust and deadly challenges.

A woman enters this first scene, standing without light, then another sits pensively on the sofa, still covered in plastic, to protect the precious possession from the daily dirt in the living room of a modest house. Accompanying this scene is Until It’s Done (Tutu)by D’Angelo and The Vanguard from his album Black Messiah.

After a rolling snare drum and repeated vocal and guitar riffs, her lyrics pose deep philosophical questions in a monochromatic female voice. A juicy beat drives the song forward:

In a world where we all revolve around the burning sun
With a need for love
What have we become?
Tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run
Until it’s done
Questions that challenge us, that we all think about:
Where do we belong?
Where do we come from?
Questions that challenge us, that we all think about
Until it’s done
Until it’s done
Carbon pollution warms the air
Do we really know?
Do we care?
Acid rain dripping on our trees and in our hair
Are you here? The clock is turning back on things we’ve already built Sons and fathers die, soldiers, daughters killed
The question is not “do we have the resources to rebuild?”
It’s “do we have the will?”
Perilous dissent raises the score Do we even know why we are fighting?
Destinies paralyzed and thrown to the ground
When we go to war
Questions that challenge us, that we all think about:
Where do we belong?
Where do we come from?
The questions that call us, we all ponder until it’s done

Sorority sofa. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Although a stationary object, the sofa plays an active role in the choreography, as the center of many gatherings, with people seated in front and beside, coming together en masse before separating into couples, trios and quartets. . A permanent symbol of the house, it is also the site of important dance vignettes, such as when four women sit together, talk quietly and sway in sync with the DeAngelo song, Mog’in, with the lyrics extending the title contraction to “I hope I can change it one more time!” A group of men in front of them rise, writhing slowly from the ground, displaying their control, as the women watch with slight interest.

The couch is also the setting for romance, celebration, consolation, and communal viewing of the comings and goings of daily life.

Donovan Reed: Breakdance explosion. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

The men’s explosive bursts of virtuoso hip-hop and break-dancing moves drew applause from onlookers on the couch, cheering to the offbeats of the pounding rhythms, expressing their admiration for the dexterity of the men.

There was always a sense of spontaneity and personal touches bordering on passionate improvisation. Sudden breaks from such intense athleticism to stillness, sometimes followed by slow-motion sequences, drew attention to astonishing individual abilities and unexpectedly elegant beauty, while having the effect of giving the impression of seeing dance through the veil of memory.

These action stops and slow-motion moves appear to be inspired by watching cast movies during Kyle Abraham’s imaginative preparation of his company for what became “An Untitled Love.” The COVID pandemic posed a particular challenge in 2020, as described in an article titled How Netflix Helped Kyle Abraham Create His New Dance: The AIM Founder and His Dancers Used Weekly Watch and Talk Sessionsby Sarah L. Kaufman in The Washington PostApril 20, 2022)

“I don’t like Zoom repeats. It’s really a challenge for me,” said Abraham, 44, “because I’m not an outgoing person. So I took advantage of what I love most about rehearsals, where we sit down and talk and dive into what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Mr. Abraham said.

“There was no dancing. No awkward rehearsals with performers dodging their coffee tables and cats while the choreographer shouted counts on his screen. Instead, the choreographer and his cast of 10 hunkered down with their laptops for group conversations.

“It felt more like a book club than a rehearsal, with dancers taking turns assigning what to watch before the next meeting. The shows and movies centered on black characters and stories. The group has chopped episode eight of “Guardians”. They dove into anti-trans violence in “The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson», and the Gullah community of “Daughters of Dust”. They went all-in Ava DuVernay and the criminalization of blacks in “13th” and the Netflix series “When they see us.”

Not everything was heavy. The light heart of Eddie Murphy “Boomerang” was on the list, and the dancers gave themselves up to Abraham Sanaa Lathan crush in the observer rom-com “Brown sugar.”

Catherine Kirk. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Tamisha Guy. Drawing by Carolyn Newberger

Throughout this show, we felt invited into the richness of this community and the individual lives there. Audiences experienced a budding love, the depth of support and connection, and the joys of living in an intimate space where people can be fully themselves, sheltered from the outside world.

This included a moving and beautiful pas de deux between Catherine Kirk and Martell Ruffin, and the sparkling exuberance of Tamisha Guy in her sparkling red shorts.

The evening ended with a quiet conversation of spoken words, as the dancers moved around the stage for their bows. Kyle Abraham entered from the wings to the center of the line and introduced each dancer by name. It was as if he was sending a love letter to each of the performers.