- Starting a movement: Kyle Abraham at work.
Kyle Abraham has departed Pittsburgh many times -- but he's never really left.
The dancer and choreographer is a graduate of Pittsburgh's performing-arts high school who last year completed graduate dance studies at New York University; his Abraham.in.Motion company is based in Brooklyn. But overseas performance credits and a growing NYC profile notwithstanding, Abraham, 30, keeps addresses in both towns and works frequently in Pittsburgh. His hometown is also where he's premiering Fading Into Something Tangible, his and the company's first evening-length work, Dec. 6-8 at the New Hazlett Theater.
Indeed, at least two works in the show featuring Abraham and nine dancers have Pittsburgh roots. "Inventing Pookie Jenkins," a 2006 solo, is a take on teen-age masculine bravado inspired by his days attending Schenley High School. Abraham, who later enrolled in the Creative and Performing Arts High School, dances the work wearing "a really big tutu," he says.
Another solo is "Awaiting Change," commissioned by The Andy Warhol Museum to accompany Without Sanctuary, its 2001 lynching exhibit. With video by Staycee Pearl and sound by Herman "Soy Sos" Pearl, both of Pittsburgh, Abraham updates the potent work to reference the Jena 6 case and other additions to America's inventory of racial strife.
"Awaiting Change," in fact, closed the show in Abraham and company's roof-raising Oct. 17 performance at the New Hazlett during the August Wilson Center's First Voice black arts festival. That performance also included a rousing, partly improvised Abraham solo, titled "10.17.07," and a sensual duet in which Cecily Campbell and Jenn Freeman danced (to "My Funny Valentine") while engaged in a deep and lengthy liplock -- during which at least a couple of older patrons walked out.
That duet is on the Dec. 6-8 program, along with the premiere of "Number 6," a work for six dancers -- inspired by the Pollock painting and set to the minimalist music of Steve Reich -- that was excerpted here Oct. 17. Also included in Fading Into Something are two more ensemble works: "Passing (remixed)," with a score by electronic composer (and Carnegie Mellon alum) Kotchy Curlow; and "Untitled," a collaboration with contemporary classical composer Ryan Mallen. Lastly, there's "Stronger," inspired by the eponymous Kanye West song, and which Abraham calls "a fun little solo."
Abraham's style -- blending Merce Cunningham abstraction, hip-hop rhythms and ballet, for starters -- is eclectic. Besides CAPA, his early training included the Civic Light Opera Academy. In the early 2000s, after undergraduate studies at SUNY Purchase, he choreographed here for Attack Theater, Dance Alloy and Xpressions Contemporary Dance, among others, and in New York performed with troupes including the renowned Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. In 2004, Abraham premiered two works at London's Arts Exchange. In the past couple of months alone, he's danced "Inventing Pookie" at New York's big annual Fall For Dance festival, and a Dec. 1 show at the prestigious Dance Theater Workshop.
Admirers include iconic dancer, postmodernist choreographer and critic Gus Solomons Jr., who has praised Abraham's "very strong voice" and "very rich" movement.
Abraham's work hasn't impressed everyone. Critiquing Fall for Dance in The New York Times, Alastair Macaulay dismissed "Pookie" as "a watch-me display of upper-body archness."
But longtime observers see development. Gwen Hunter Ritchie, who befriended Abraham several years ago, when both were with Dance Alloy, commissioned Abraham to choreograph for LABCO Dance after she became that Pittsburgh troupe's artistic director. Ritchie admired Abraham's solo choreography, but found that his "idiosyncratic" movement style -- "very sharp, very distinct" -- didn't come across when he set other dancers. She felt differently after seeing the Oct. 17 First Voice show. "I just thought, 'Wow, he has really grown as a choreographer,'" says Ritchie. "He's been able to kind of translate his vocabulary onto a different set of dancers nicely.
"His dancers are gorgeous," Ritchie adds. "I think he's really found a group of dancers that can pull off his movement, and add their own individual style."
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion presents Fading Into Something Tangible 8 p.m. nightly Thu., Dec. 6; Fri., Dec. 7; and Sat., Dec. 8. New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square East, North Side. $15 ($10 students/seniors). 412-391-2060 or www.newhazletttheater.org