Kyle Abraham powers up sound moves in his 'Radio Show'
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Kyle Abraham seemed to be encased in a personal reverie as the audience filtered into the Kelly-Strayhorn Saturday night. The Shirelles' voices wafted through the theater with "Momma said there'd be days like this ..."
He was quietly gliding to the familiar lyrics with the poetic street-style moves that he covets, using the slo-mo hip-hop arms above and a splayed fourth position and punctuating stag leap below. Suddenly the motion was interrupted as his intense focus, almost butoh-like, dropped like a descending curtain. Mr. Abraham began to go slack.
It interrupted his private dance, but in a good way. With this almost casual prelude, Mr. Abraham firmly established the thematic content for the evening: a dual tribute to his father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and now is virtually unable to speak, and the 2009 demise of WAMO, Pittsburgh's iconic urban radio station, where people called in to sing, to request and just to talk.
So Mr. Abraham already had one foot in "The Radio Show" as the auditorium lights went down and the stage lights, some on the floor at the back, began to heighten his sense of purpose. This would be a biographical evening in a way, not literally but impressionistic, like memories that come and go and often try to overlap.
You heard the scratching, like a radio station changing, as Mr. Abraham began to flourish, widening the arc of his movement. Then there was the sound of a phone being dialed, and Aretha Franklin began to layer the lyrics in "Mary Don't You Weep."
Mr. Abraham took a similar tack as a trio of women (Amber Parker, Samantha Farrow and Rachelle Rafailedes) gradually moved onto the stage -- posturing, balancing on the balls of their feet and interpreting Mr. Abraham's vocabulary with their own feminine wiles.
In all Mr. Abraham brought six dancers, including Maureen Damaso and a pair of men, Raja Kelly and Jeremy Nedd. The movement traveled among them in various unison configurations, conveying a sense of the isolation in contemporary society. Mr. Abraham occasionally played on that idea by also separating one dancer from the pack.
When the dancers touched, perhaps only a shoulder or a knee, it gave off a tender emotional charge. But he could also amp it up with a chokehold or a double body ripple that ended in a soft lift during the rare intimacy of a duet.
Mr. Abraham packed a lot of life-like suggestions in his work, which could be sweetly poignant, full of attitude or comic (the "make it or break it" segment with faux DJ and singer was quintessentially WAMO). "The Radio Show," so life-like, so compelling in the seesaw of human emotion, demonstrated how Mr. Abraham is honing his craft.
With this production, he finally showed he is capable of translating the singular vision of his solo work onto multiple bodies without diluting it. Where before he created sentences, he now creates paragraphs that lead to a whole story, for all the seemingly disparate human elements revolved around his vision like planets circling the sun. It was that bright and intelligent.
Mr. Abraham could have been considered an emerging artist in the past. But he has obviously taken his dance to the next level, and it is nothing less than impressive.
First Published February 1, 2010 12:00 am