Best of Spring

Kyle Abraham on Sharing the Stage and Recognizing His Inspirations

With his new Joyce season, the A.I.M artistic director strives to “[pay] homage to lineage and to the love of dance”

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About the week-long Abraham.In.Motion season starting at the Joyce Theater on May 1, there’s much to be excited: two New York–exclusive mixed bills; introspective solo work by artistic director Kyle Abraham; and a new official company name, A.I.M. Abraham shares the program with three other important choreographers, nodding to the multigenerational influences that have shaped him and his collaborators.

The Voice recently caught up with Abraham — whose enthusiasm for and pride in A.I.M’s dancers was contagious throughout the meeting — to discuss his process and how the season came together.

The Joyce has commissioned INDY, a solo — something we haven’t seen you perform in nearly a decade. What compelled you to carve out space for solo work?

When Abraham.In.Motion first performed at the Joyce in 2015, it was kind of bittersweet for me. While it was such a dream of mine to have my company perform there, it was also kind of sad because I didn’t really get to dance in that program. I had a brief cameo in one dance — maybe a minute and thirty seconds in total — and I did a short prelude to the show to have more time to perform. So, this time, I was really hungry for an opportunity to perform on the Joyce stage, which led to INDY.

Another major component was this thought that I’ve been giving so much time and attention to the work I was making for my company and other companies that I wasn’t actually able to focus on myself. So much so, that I think it manifested in how I was looking at my life. I wasn’t carving out space for me. Also, these notions of change, growth, and reflection are part of it — what kept me inspired during the process were thoughts about when I first started dancing or about times when I was dealing with insecurities in my dancing and was trying to gain confidence in that respect. 

I know you love music and that it’s often the driving force behind your pieces. What was your collaboration with composer-pianist Jerome Begin for INDY like?

I love Jerome. He and I worked very organically together. We really just went into the space at the same time to see what would happen. Sometimes we’d even say, “You work in this part of the room and I’ll work in that part, and then let’s come together and see what we have.” After that we just continued to have conversations about what we were doing and what one person did in respect to the other. Or, there were times when I would ask him for specific things — one day I asked if he could create something moody, tonal, and really cleansing…and we would see what would come out of that request. It was really fun!

I have read that it can take up to two years for you to research and create a piece. How long did INDY and Meditation, your two world premieres here, take?

Both pieces probably took about a year to create. I remember the day we started Meditation — it was a beautiful rainy day and we were rehearsing at Dance Theater of Harlem. I just got inspired.… What happens sometimes is that I’m waiting for a collaborator to arrive, and they don’t show up, and so I just start making something else. That was the case for Meditation. We were actually working on Drive, another piece of mine on the upcoming Joyce program. I didn’t have the music yet and was waiting on the music collaborator to show up with the score. So, at that point, I could only do so much on my own, based off of what I thought the composition was going to be. I thought to myself, “I need to put the brakes on this because I’m going to get too far in the process!” Then I just started to see this entirely new piece in my mind, even though I didn’t intend on making another one since I had already commissioned other choreographers to create work for our Joyce season.

Those other choreographers on the program are Bebe Miller, Doug Varone, and Andrea Miller. What do you look for when bringing choreographers on board, and how can you ensure that the pieces work well together in the program?

The works we are presenting are just wonderful. In some way, I chose Doug Varone because of my love of dance.… I first saw his piece, Strict Love, on the day I auditioned for Purchase College’s undergraduate dance program, and it really made an impact on me. I’m also a huge Bebe Miller fan and I was really excited about having her on board.… Andrea Miller is one of my favorite choreographers — she’s just so thoughtful about the art she makes. Basically, it’s all really about the fact that they are inspirations to me in different ways. All three choreographers represent different generations and voices. I think having them all on the program just shows the brilliance of the A.I.M dancers because they can really transform for each piece.

How has your position at UCLA’s department of world arts and cultures/dance informed your work? Has your choreographic process changed?

One of the great things about the position is that it created a little more space in that I’m able to step back a little bit from the work. It has changed the way I interact with the dancers and collaborators, as I’m not always in the studio with them. Plus, related to this particular program, I was given a creative residency on the UCLA campus to work on the choreography for INDY, and I’m so grateful to UCLA for that. Going forward, I want to see how the A.I.M company dancers can work with the school because I think it would be a great way for the UCLA dance students to learn and grow. I hope that’s something we can make happen in the coming years.

I’m sure that being a 2013 MacArthur Fellow has brought about many wonderful opportunities. Are there any that have shaped your work even today?

Yes, it impacts me in terms of who I’ve been collaborating with. In 2012, I was asked to perform in Nashville, Tennessee, at an art gallery that was doing a retrospective on Carrie Mae Weems’s photography and video work. I did a solo in response to her art and it was a wonderful experience. The next year, we both received the MacArthur. That helped us stay connected, which led to me being able to use her text on a project that I’m working on now.

If there was one thing you’d want the New York audience to take away from this run, what would it be?

So much! What’s tricky is that so often presenters are more interested in my work and my choreographic voice, but really this program is paying homage to lineage and to the love of dance. On our tour, New York is probably one of the only stops where you will see all these works performed in the program together, which is really exciting. There may be opportunities coming up elsewhere to see one of the other choreographer’s works, but not all of them on a program together. Plus, with our Joyce season, there are so many premieres. Andrea Miller’s world premiere was commissioned for Abraham.In.Motion, so it will be really great for people to see how her work was made for our dancers. Because of licensing, I don’t know how long we’ll be able to keep it in our repertoire before we lose it, so it’s something to check out now! The piece is amazing and I’m so happy with how it turned out. Also, I’m only performing INDY a handful of times because, although I was passionate about doing the solo, I didn’t want to take opportunities away from the dancers in my company. Ultimately, if I’m performing the solo, then one of the other pieces in the program isn’t being performed, so I wanted to be aware of how to navigate that.

 

The Village Voice is celebrating the season’s arts and culture highlights throughout the week of April 16, 2018. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Spring Arts 2018 page.

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