If Pavement represents the trajectory of art-making in the 21st century, then everything's going to be okay despite so much evidence to the contrary thanks to Kyle Abraham and his collaborators in Abraham.In.Motion. They are telling stories of being bound, of being laid prone with hands clamped behind the back, but they are doing so in a boundless, exuberant and downright majestic fashion. The same wrists that get thrust behind the back so frequently also touch high above the performers' heads in the split second it takes them to spin with joy. The dancers shine through the movement with elegance, swagger, playfulness and calm, bending but not breaking under the weight of the subject matter. They do stunning justice to a legacy of injustice, and the audience at the Laguna Playhouse on opening night of the 12th Laguna Dance Festival was mesmerized.
The hour flew by. Pavement develops in overlapping layers, the soundtrack bleeding from song to silence to police radio to Bach to just the dancers' sneakers hitting the stage in unison to Boyz In the Hood soundtrack to the performers speaking; their words moving with the dancers in a slow cross or popping out of the side aisles or bunching up center stage. Demanding choreography bursts out of the simplest walking or standing or looking. The patterns of sound and movement were either so complex or so effortless that nothing could be predicted—and perhaps that is the true definition of fresh, a word so often bandied about in artistic statements. Abraham is not trying to make his work seem fresh; it is fresh.
The basketball-court setting is backed by a chain-link fence, while a backboard, hoop and net rise above. The lines on the floor defining the basketball court look like they're laid down with tape but eventually they glow and no longer confine the dancers. As Pavement unfolds, the street scene gives way to something more theatrical, then back to the street, eventually emerging as a mythic place. Doritos are eaten by a casually strolling performer and much laughter ensues thanks to the hustler's jaunty plea for chips. But that plea morphs from “Can you help a brother out” to a wailing, hopeless cry for help amidst red-flashing lights on an otherwise darkened stage. The piece's finale just reeks with tender care. It's a transcendent answer to the calls for help, for the craving to belong or to be rid of loneliness that had emerged on the court's pavement until the space becomes, finally, universal and timeless.
So if anyone ever asks you if you want to go see a dance performance made by Kyle Abraham, say “Yes.” Or say “BOOM!” And go. Luckily, Abraham begins teaching at UCLA soon so there should be plenty of opportunities to see his work with students and with Abraham.In.Motion in the not too distant future. Even if it requires a trip to LA. Just go. You could sit in the theater with eyes closed and enjoy the work of art that is the sound design, but then you'd miss the movement, which is just as mesmerizing a mashup—synchronized, in counterpoint, in competition, enthralled. But best of all is seeing and hearing the multiplicity of ways the two interrelate: just magical.
Lisa Black proofreads the dead-tree edition of the Weekly, and writes culture stories for her column Paint It Black.