By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-Faun√©
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
There are some darker images, one of which is extremely enigmatic. The projected photo of a seated, masked figure swims out of darkness; he resembles the monkey god of Indian myth. A drawing of a woman floats up toward him. He becomes large and suddenly mobile, taking her into his arms. Copulating, they drift into darkness, and the woman dwindles in his embrace.
In City of Papers most shocking scene, Jian and Yokota sit side by side, bent over, their backsnow baredto us. They might be awaiting punishment. Mei enters and carefully pours a column of thick ink over each of them. Coursing down Jians spine, the black line gives him for a few seconds the illusion of having a queue, like that of a long-ago Chinese man. One after the other, the two roll over the white-paper floor, their spreading gestures and soaked black trunks creating a haphazard, deformed calligraphy of scratches and blots.
The ending is startling in another way. Mei holds up a blank horizontal scroll. Bit by bit, black words appear on it: On a blank sheet of paper the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted. The words are Chairman Maos. Meis statement could be both ironic in relation to Chinas past and hopeful for its future. Regret and acceptance tremble in the balance.
Choreographerss individual voices tend to emerge through a thicket of influences: the teachers they studied with, the dance companies they were part of, the music they grew up with, the culture of their time and hometown, their family and community values. Never has this been quite so ebulliently obvious as it is in Kyle Abrahams works. Its not that he copies anything; he just runs much of what he has experienced through his personal shredder. Aspects of himthe postmodern thinker and deconstructionist with an MFA, the lover of hip-hop who values street culture, the student of classic modern dance styles, the delver into cultural history, and the gay black manunite in two of the pieces that he only began to show professionally in 2006.
His breakout solo from that year, Inventing Pookie Jenkins, was included on his companys program in Jacobs Pillow Doris Duke Theater. The opening image is stunning. Framed by Dan Scullys softly glowing lighting, Abraham sits with his back to the audience, his bare, muscular torso emerging from the long, white, net tutu puddled around him. No escapee from Swan Lake could wreathe her arms around her head and behind her back with more gently preening sensitivity than this. The accompanying music, however, is the sound of sirens and gunfire and angry voices.
Once up, Abrahams no swan. Now his full skirt, bent-kneed treading, and mobile arms and torso call to mind a ceremonial dance from one of the West African countries, even when hes grooving to a harsher beat. Amazing the way he drops into a sit and rises on a dime. The rapper Dizzee Rascal provides gangland tirades via an enormous boom box sitting onstage. Now the man in the tutu has a swagger in his walk and affects a limping gait. He threatens, hunkers down, and punches air. Ill make you respect me if it kills you (I think I heard that), but also, as Abraham, lip-synching, ventures up the aisle: I love you, group. Then he shoulders the boom box and exits, cocky as hell in his fluffy skirt.
The provocative overlay of imagery in Inventing Pookie Jenkins is clear, even though enigmatic and open to various interpretations. The Radio Show, new last spring, is a little less unified in its blend of elements. Its as if Abraham wanted to mix everything he knows and likes about dancemaking with recollections of two, recently shut-down community radio stations he grew up listening to in Pittsburgh, plus the sad fact of his fathers currently dissolving memory. And, in doing so, to pay homage to both losses. The blend is often daring, and disturbing in a powerful and interesting way, although sometimes the disjunction between the movement messages and the array of funky musical selections and talk- show snippets can make the piece seem to drag. A couple of times I find myself thinking, What does this passage of dancing have to do with the thrust of the piece?
Abrahams opening solo is marvelous. Hes feeling good, rocking and reeling, his muscles oiled. But suddenly hes staring severely at us, as if wondering why were here. A needle scratches on a record, and he slowly melts into an old mans stoop, one hand trembling, as he walks slowly away. Amber Lee Parker follows him, a watchful attendant.
Those movements, transformed, appear intermittently throughout the piece. In the midst of a richly physical bout of dancing, someones hand will shake, someones back will round, someones head will wobble, someone will lean on another person. Radio announcements abort the many musical selections; listeners call in, air their marital grievances, vote for the tune they like. A strip of lights at the back turns red, blue, and occasionally blazes so brightly white that I cant see whats happening. Paths of light appear on the floor, one for each of the dancers. I go from being enthralled to feeling jerked around.