Kyle Abraham at the Kelly-Strayhorn | Program Notes

Kyle Abraham at the Kelly-Strayhorn

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It's a treat, even a privilege, to get to see dancer and choreographer Abraham and his Abraham.In.Motion company on a regular basis, even as this Pittsburgh native blips onto the national dance radar. Their performance Sat., Jan. 24 -- a result of the Kelly-Strayhorn's first-ever artist residency -- was at least the fourth public performance here in the past couple of years. And recently, Abraham, who splits his time between Pittsburgh and NYC, earned a rave in The Times and, better still, was named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" for 2009.

The Kelly-Strayhorn residency program was engineered by the theater's new executive director, Janera Solomon (a sometime CP contributor in visual-art coverage). Its product, the show's first half, was created in just a couple days here, and was a nice showcase for the wonderfully athletic company consisting of Abraham and seven other dancers (six of them women). "The Radio Show" (working title) opened with an Abraham solo, lit only by a big worklamp hand-held by another dancer. Abraham took the lamp for others' solos -- then passed it to an audience member who followed him through the aisle of the darkened theater, where he soloed to a Lauryn Hill song whose refrain goes "I'm in love with another man." (Snippets of live Hill provided much of the soundtrack.)

By highlighting dancers' contours, the spotlight gimmick gave as much in atmosphere as it took away in visibility. A little more problematic (especially for those of us seated at floor level) was how Abraham's tour of the aisle frequently put him out of sight, behind other ticketholders' bodies, and even behind us. Still, Abraham in motion remains as viscerally thrilling as when I last saw him, in late 2007 at the New Hazlett Theater. His mercurial shifts between street dance, street-corner attitudinizing, hip hop and more canonical gesture are occasionally stunning, and I feel like I'd recognize the style as his even if someone else were using it.

Part two was the latest version of Abraham's "The Dripping Kind," a group work highlighted by four brief, sinous duets -- also spread out across the house floor -- that served as engrossing mini psychodramas, often beautiful to watch.

The theater was nearly full, with an admittedly partisan crowd, some of whom have known Abraham since his Schenley and CAPA days. (He grew up in Lincoln-Larimer.) Abraham performed the show's second half in an orange "Ozanam" basketball T-shirt, partly in tribute to the Hill District hoops league and to his dad, who coached there. He wears one most performances, he said in a post-show talk-back; if we're lucky, we'll see still more of them in the years to come.

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