Abraham.in.Motion opens complex dialog

Susanne Bushman, Arts Editor

bushmans@grinnell.edu

Matthew Baker and Connie Shiau of Abraham.In.Motion in The Gettin’. Photo by John Brady

Matthew Baker and Connie Shiau of Abraham.In.Motion in The Gettin’. Photo by John Brady

Dance got serious in Roberts Theater on Saturday, Sept. 12 as Abraham.in.Motion, the dance company of MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham, took the stage in “When the Wolves Came In.” The performance was a meditation on issues surrounding identity and race and utilized the dancers’ athleticism and featured stage elements from a variety of collaborators.

“When the Wolves Came In” was created during Abraham’s term as a New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist and though it turns a critical eye on modern times, the piece was inspired by an earlier era of activism.

“[The program was] created in response to Max Roche’s ‘Freedom Now’ suite album, which is an album that was written in response to the Emancipation Proclamation’s 100th anniversary. Now we’re 151, almost 152 years past the Emancipation Proclamation. So it was thinking about that, but also the civil rights era,” Abraham said. “It was an album that was supposed to be released in ’63 but because of what was going on in ’61 it came out a little early. I think he was just like, ‘This has to come out now, I’m just so fueled.’ And I think that has played a big part in how we’ve chosen to approach this program. Ideally, none of the works are the same or the message comes across in the same way.”

The program was broken up into three sections, “When the Wolves Came In,” “Hallowed” and “The Gettin’,” which moved from more abstract to less abstract. In the first, and titular, piece the dancers manipulated each other’s bodies and interacted with large beehive wigs, which left much up to interpretation. The final piece, in contrast, had a clearer message due to a series of projections behind the dancers that included video news footage from apartheid South Africa and more modern footage of the assault of Eric Garner.

This projection series is just one of the program’s many collaborations. In addition to the collaboration between Abraham and the dancers, the show features costumes by Reid Bartelme and Karen Young, set design by Glenn Ligon. The music for “The Gettin’” is a jazz piece by Robert Glasper.

Vinson Fraley, Tamisha Guy, and Jeremy “Jae” Neal of Abraham.In.Motion in The Gettin’. Photo by John Brady.

Vinson Fraley, Tamisha Guy, and Jeremy “Jae” Neal of Abraham.In.Motion in The Gettin’. Photo by John Brady.

Though the work looks at complicated issues, they’re central to Abraham’s creative process and how he navigates the world.

“A lot of what ends up happening, even in the early grant writing stages, is just, ‘This is what I’m thinking about right now, this is where my heart is right now.’ And that becomes what the dance is and I wind up being stuck in some ways in that world for a period of time,” Abraham said.

Though Abraham is an accomplished dancer, his path to creating Abraham.in.Motion wasn’t clear, and he experienced some indecision along the way.

“I think after dancing professionally right out of college with my favorite company, it was a bit too real. All of the mirage was gone. It just disappears, and you realize that these are real people, real personalities and a work or two or three that I liked at a certain point may not be the direction that that choreographer or director is going in by the time I get there, which I think is really important for a young dancer to be thinking about,” Abraham said.

This led to Abraham taking a break from dance until he returned to dance in graduate school at New York University to assess if dance was something he wanted to continue pursuing and if he wanted to be choreographing and living in New York.

Abraham.in.Motion’s next work, to come out in 2017, focuses on love, rather than the heavy issues addressed in “When the Wolves Came In,” and its sister piece, “The Watershed.”

“So much of the work has come from a dark place, an angry place, a frustrated place, that I wanted to kind of go against that. I needed to, mentally and spiritually,” Abraham said.