A.I.M. at The Joyce: The fruits of eclecticism and collaboration

Abraham.In.Motion. Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Abraham.In.Motion. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY. 
October 15, 2019.

Kyle Abraham’s Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M.) seeks to “create an evocative interdisciplinary body of work” and to be “a representation of dancers from various disciplines and diverse personal backgrounds.” The company’s program at The Joyce Theater validated these essential components of its mission — eclecticism and collaboration. Both spring from — and furthermore, need to flourish — an attitude of openness to sharing and considering other perspectives. Such a spirit and approach to working seem alive and well at A.I.M., given these eclectic works grounded in collaborative methods. 

Big Rings, a world premiere choreographed by Keerati Jinakunwiphat, opened the program. Movement — in formation and at the body level — reflected that of basketball; dancers moved across the stage gradually in lines, reaching low and high, as if drilling dribbling and shooting. Sounds of scuffing reflected sneakers on the court. Lighting (by Dan Scully) evoked a late night game or practice, dramatically low and illuminating the dancers from the side. 

Leaps and gestures were based in contemporary and hip hop vocabulary, but also had a pedestrian touch. This quality humanized the dancers as well as helped validate the basketball theme. More technical movement would come, even striking partnering — such as one dancer flipping her hips to touch one foot down to the ground while her partner held the other. Aesthetic effects would also become more varied and complex, such as a section with the dancers backlit — and therefore in silhouette. 

Sections seemingly improvised would also come, whereas the movement before this in the piece — in unison and in separate groups simultaneously dancing — seemed set. Jinakunwiphat was offering various ways that a group of dancers can move on a stage, separately and together. All of it brought of a feeling of dynamic energy and intergroup harmony. Lyrics towards the end said “I’m good”, while the dancers moved with an easy groove. The movement and formations in this last section (and others) did reflect opposition — yet even so, there was a functional, harmonious system at work here. All seemed able to truthfully say “I’m good”. Jinakunwiphat’s movement reflected diverse movement forms and inspirations, performed by Abraham’s versatile dancers — eclecticism and collaboration in action. 

Show Pony, choreographed by Abraham and danced by Marcella Lewis, came next. It also oozed an easy cool, as well as the dancer’s pride and confidence in her own skin. Lewis wore a gold unitard (Costume Design by Fritz Masten), shining just right against the yellow/orange light (Lighting Design by Scully); the colors all perfectly contrasted yet also somehow harmoniously met. Lewis moved with a kind of sass, a low-key one that seemed to say that she had absolutely nothing to prove. 

She bent knees, grounding deep, yet also reached far outside of herself with smoothly extending limbs. Exploring different levels, she moved through space assertively and fearlessly. Gesture seeming to emulate a marionette, and footwork of a proud horse’s movement, furthered the work’s theme as well as hip-hop movement vocabulary. Yet those fluid extensions and floor-based movement sections reflected contemporary movement vocabulary. 

This work demonstrated Abraham’s ability to seamlessly blend such different movement idioms, a skilled and compelling eclecticism. At certain points, Doris Humphrey’s quote about all dances being too long did come to mind for me. I wondered if the work at eighty percent of its length would have made more impact. Works being solos do come into play with this question, I believe. Yet overall, the work was memorable and pleasing to experience. 

After this work came Trisha Brown’s Solo Olos (restaged by Cecily Campbell and Stuart Shugg), a work of postmodern movement ingredients and shaped by postmodern processes. To a score of silence (apart from their own breath and feet scuffing), dancers dipped their heads to have their spines follow, going from seated to lying. They brought an elbow into a side, the other arm leading them to face sideways with spine flat, that elbow then leading its arm to join the other arm in reaching forward — accented yet with a smoothness gelling all of the movements together. All of this they at first danced in unison. 

Then, over loudspeaker, someone gave them instructions such as “reverse” and “branch”. There was therefore an element of improvisation here; seemingly, the dancers weren’t aware what instructions would come when. They were impressively on task and sharp despite this unexpected nature of what they would be asked to do next; from personal experience, I can say that movement alterations such as retrograding are quite difficult to wrap one’s brain and body around. In a way, this is an element of a postmodern dancer’s virtuosity. A.I.M. dancers therein showed their versatility here, and the larger company its spirit of eclecticism in the inclusion of such an assuredly postmodern work (one may reasonably argue that we’re now in a “post-postmodern” era in dance and in the wider arts). To end, the loudspeaker voice said “we’ll be continuing.” This felt like a window into a dance artist’s reality, how they work much, much longer on a work than it itself lasts in time. 

Studies on a Farewell was a choreographic collaboration between Abraham and his company dancers. As is most often the case when choreographers work this way (and thus, an advantage of doing so), movement seemed to reflect the dancers’ strengths and individual movement styles. Various groupings of dancers dissolving in different ways, again and again in a work, reflected the plethora of moods and energies that goodbyes can reflect — all with a sort of tension or sadness, however; these situations are rarely easy or pleasant. The ending was particularly powerful; one dancer stood alone on stage, gazing around the space. This question surfaced for me; what is left after a goodbye, within and around oneself? 

Cocoon, choreographed and danced by Abraham, called upon a collaboration of dance and live singing. The nuances in his movement aligned with the nuances in the multi-part vocal harmony. Evident in all — and especially in Abraham’s grounded, yet somehow also aspirational, hopeful movement quality — was a soulfulness and generosity of spirit. These layers within their creative offering, and in creativity itself, felt like some sort of “cocoon” — enveloping, sheltering them through self-transformation and growth. These artists together performing, excelling in their separate art forms, seemed to make this “cocoon” possible.

Finishing the night was Ash, danced by Misty Copeland and choreographed by Abraham in collaboration with Copeland. I didn’t expect to see the ballet icon that is Copeland dancing that night. The work exemplified both collaboration and eclecticism, through its collaborative choreographic approach and (likely resulting) contemporary ballet movement idiom. What was most memorable to me in the work was Copeland’s presence and timing, rather than big movement “tricks”; she’s a virtuosic dancer, but this work seemed intent on highlighting what is there when one strips away the high levels of virtuosity. 

A starkly grey color scheme, Copeland’s beautifully-flowing short tunic in that color (Costume Design by Harriet Jung and Reid Bartelme), seemed to reflect that sparse sense. What is left in the ash after the fire burns bright and hot? Pieces of virtuosic burning flame still licked up from time to time, such as with quick footwork and high-flying leaps. Like a heartbeat, the score (Attack/Transition by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto with Ensemble Modern) felt reflective of her movement’s continuous resonance (both that of virtuosic and more gestural, internal movement). Like all works in the program that evening, Ash demonstrated the creative bounty that’s possible when artists keep enthusiastically open minds to alternate ways of making and diverse people to make with. 

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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