Abraham makes fine movement. He knows how to vary it on the body—sometimes the dancers’ arms move alone; maybe the legs take over; maybe limbs-head-arms-body unite to spurt into action. He knows how to slide unison into counterpoint, to let one person start a phrase and the others feed in; to have dancers take turns replacing one another in an ongoing sequence. The performers are terrific: Parker in a notable solo of warring emotions and states of being that really strikes sparks off Aretha Franklin’s singing; Samantha E. Farrow and Raymond Pinto in a duet; Chalvar Monteiro, Rachelle Rafailedes, and Maureen Wright.

In contrast to this almost-too-rich stew with its diverse, jostling ingredients, Abraham’s new work, Op. 1 (developed in part during a Jacob’s Pillow residency), is a spare, sophisticated, visually stunning exercise in black-and white (although Sarah Cubbage’s simple outfits for the dancers are in muted colors). The dance happens behind a partial scrim and mostly within an area on the floor defined by two bars of fluorescent light. The collaboration between Abraham and photographer Carrie Schneider yields a stop-start prelude film (projected on the scrim) of two dancers using a board to mark off in chalk (and cut?) lines on a black cloth that is then picked up, leaving a pattern on the filmed floor. Other related grids of chalk lines intermittently move on the scrim, along with filmic flashes of whipping arms and legs.

Abraham’s ideas for Op. 1 were triggered by the photos of Eadweard Muybridge—still shots of runners and wrestlers that, arranged linearly, create a simulation of action. You needn’t know this to appreciate the dance. Abraham plays with the notion of a pose that melts into another or alters in a series of small, sharp moves. Some of these attitudes were drawn from the Muybridge photos, as was the wrestling duet between Pinto and Durell R. Comedy and the messier bout between Rafailedes (what a dancer!) and Wright. The spare music by Ryoji Ikeda supports the atmosphere elegantly.

Yin Mei’s City of Paper, Dai Jian in the foreground.
Ruppert Bohle.
Yin Mei’s City of Paper, Dai Jian in the foreground.
Kyle Abraham in his Inventing Pookie Jenkins.
Kristi Pitsch
Kyle Abraham in his Inventing Pookie Jenkins.

Details

Yin Mei Dance
Jacobís Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts
August 14 through 8

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion
Jacobís Pillow
August 11 through 15

In tune with the designs that Scully’s lighting lays on the floor and the images on the scrim through which we see the dancing, the six cast members often line up to frame the action. They’re exact in the positions they assume over and over—sometimes sitting or lying down in different arrangements. But the movement is also often energetic; the performers leap, writhe, lope along, thrust their limbs into space. Nor is Abraham one to avoid the human element. Pairs intermittently meet and embrace. At some point, Wright climbs laboriously up Pinto’s back to sit on his shoulders.

The ending didn’t quite work the night I saw Op. 1—something to do with the timing of the fadeout and the last gesture—and the audience sat in the dark wondering whether to applaud. The piece deserved that applause. It affirms Abraham’s talent, his openness to new ideas, and his progress as an artist.

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