I wonder if Limón happened to see Rooms back in the1950s. His visions were never this grim, but the strength, integrity, and human insights of the choreography would surely have impressed and moved him.


I first saw Kyle Abraham's work when he was getting his MFA at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He's come great distances since then, finding his voice as a performer-choreographer and investigating his identity as a gay African-American male. A solo, Dream Lockdown, that he performed on one of DanceNOW's October programs, confirmed his talents. In that, alternately fluid and jerky, he seemed to be in a simultaneous process of becoming and falling apart. In his new solo, Brick, at DTW, he channels stylistic aspects of two sources: Kara Walker's cut-out-silhouette scenes and work by the 17th-century Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu. At first, back to us, wearing a very bouffant Afro wig and a hoodie over full black pants, he strikes positions against a white paneled backdrop that allude to Walker's images of violence against African Americans; an associate traces the outline of this living silhouette (later shapes of white light fill those outlines). When Abraham sheds the wig (more of them rise on wires as décor), he reveals black body paint and a gleaming corselet. Against a background of twin slides showing what I took to be a Japanese river town in the rain, his wonderfully expressive body sometimes suggests Moronobu's influence in its settled clarity, its slow gestures, and the way his hands flick the space around him. Yet his rippling arms, hips, and shoulders also reach back to Africa and forward to hip-hop. At one point, when rap breaks out in the collage score, his undulations toughen until he's punching the air.
Photo by Meems.
Member of the José Limón Dance Company in Anna Sokolow's Rooms.

Details

José Limón Dance Company
Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue
212-242-0800
December 2 through 7

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion
Layard Thompson
Dance Theater Workshop
219 West 19th Street
212-924-0077
December 3 through 6

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Abraham's The Dripping Kind began as an installation, and it retains a sculptural calm—simple but vibrant in space. Dancers enter one by one in silence at a leisurely pace and assume a position in profile—standing on tiptoe, one foot forward, body curved over, arms hanging. Each of them (Jenn Freeman, Chelamar Bernard, Maureen Damaso, Nicole Mannarino, Sumaya Jackson, Evan Copeland, Meghan Merrill) is bent to a different degree, as if Abaham wanted to depict the stages of melting. In various combinations, they stagger forward, getting closer and closer to the ground, roll one way and then the other, rise and retreat to their poses. They do this for quite a while, and it's always interesting. Another repeated and varied action reinforces the strangely poignant tone. Mannarino braces herself in a pushup position, and the others take turns entering and crawling under the bridge of her body; when her visitor lies supine, she lowers herself onto him or her and rests there for a short while. Then she pushes up again, and the person leaves. Sometimes she puts these guests' arms around her, or they embrace her. Merrill, her last "lover," stays the longest, and after some gentle, but strong passages of movement by the group, Merrill places Mannarino in the same half-melting embrace of empty air that Mannarino earlier molded her into, then walks away, leaving her friend alone on the darkening stage. The music's by Arvo Pärt, Thomas Brinkmann, and Gabriela Montero, and Abby Geartner joins the dance at some point.

Layard Thompson, who shares the program with Abraham, is also into exploring identity, which he does with the uninhibited gusto of a wild child and the calculation of a savvy artist. The title of his Cup… puC……K……Ohhhh, Beauty, full, vessel: is as elaborately (somewhat maddeningly) playful as the 45-minute work. Like his acknowledged mentor, Deborah Hay, he can be both impish and primal. He begins by making his way down an aisle, wearing an amazing, full-skirted dress made of take-out coffee cups and smaller cardboard lids. Machine Dazzle collaborated on the mic'd outfit, which clanks as he crawls and swings along. His lower body is confined in clear plastic trash bags, so he appears, unnervingly, to be legless.

The first part of the piece is an elaborate unveiling in more ways than one. Thompson emerges from the dress, then finds many ways to get out of the many bags whose red ties hang around his neck like coral jewelry. All the while, he howls and hoots and talks gibberish, eventually ripping his way through the last sacks, even as he plays with their possibilities (suffocation? No, maybe not). His lean, fit body clad only in briefs, he explores those white cotton undergarments as if he both knew and refused their function (aren't I the naughty boy?). At one point in their destruction, a long strip of fabric passes between his legs and around his neck, uncomfortably sharing his crotch with his now exposed genitals. Eventually, his consonantless gabble reveals what's he's struggling to articulate: "Here is my handle, here is my spout. . . ." And indeed quite a lot of pouring out does go on. On Thompson's agenda are peeing while resting face down on the floor, climbing into a plastic trash can and showering off with a jumbo bottle of water, putting on several items of clean underwear in unlikely ways, loping like a gorilla, trying some makeshift percussion, standing on the inverted trash can (fortunately emptied into a pot) with a paper bag over his head, crawling under a long paper-cup coverlet and emerging as a sort frilled lizard with a large ruff of clear-plastic glasses (a magic moment). As a conclusion, he retrieves a thermos and a cup from his discarded dress, and tells us all the healthful, stimulating ingredients in the hot drink he pours out and gives to us to pass around.

The piece could certainly be call self-indulgent, but Thompson's every crazed move is both calculated and layered with wit. Whatever you may think, you can't take your eyes off him.

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