Kyle Abraham just may be the defining choreographic voice of a new generation. He makes dance that has swagger, something that can escalate into anger and violence. It depicts a generation that is alienated not only by social pressures, but by virtue of technology. But this is also a generation that still needs to touch, to caress, to connect.
It also happens that Mr. Abraham is black and the Pittsburgh Dance Council program, titled "Pavement," went back to the Lincoln-Larimer native's local roots, inspired by gangs in Homewood and the Hill District.
His memories collected in bits and pieces in "Pavement," so there was no singular story. On Saturday night we saw a rather bare Byham Theater stage bordered by a chain link fence with a basketball hoop off to one side. The backboard was used as a screen, to show apartment buildings and an audio/video of a traffic stop (shades of a young Jonny Gammage to be heard in the demeaning conversation) by Pittsburgh filmmaker Chris Ivey.
The movement itself could be slow and cool, as structured as a simple plie. Sometimes it was as casual as jumping in and out of a pool of movement. But it was never ordinary, even though he used conversational chatter on and off or punctuated a phrase with a shoulder shrug. One dancer snacked from a bag of potato chips as Mr. Abraham lay on the floor behind him, arms held as if in handcuffs, as if death was a part of everyday life.
Perhaps that was his most telling move, used to open "Pavement," in a handcuff sequence that was repeated until Mr. Abraham seemed to handcuff himself.
Mr. Abraham's dance was born in the streets and still retains that improvisational look that we are not used to seeing on the Dance Council series, where long-running touring productions have an undeniable polish.
"Pavement" was only the third major work from Mr. Abraham -- we've seen the intensely personal unfolding of "The Radio Show," inspired by the demise of local black radio station WAMO and his father's struggle with aphasia, and "Live: The Realest MC," an urban rendering of Pinocchio. But it is his most sophisticated.
Mr. Abraham's charismatic presence blended more with his dancers, or perhaps it was the other way around in this rough-around-the edges approach to a singular blend of hip hop, both lyrical and hard-hitting, and glued together by modern dance and ballet. But that was part of the attraction. The dancers weren't totally in sync, but then, should they be?
Just like the terrific score, which was so eclectic and ultimately universal as it darted from Bach to Alva Noto to gunfire and back again, the effect of his work does the same in the end, despite a daringly long and introspective ending where bodies pile up in an atmosphere of resignation.
Yes, the poignant core of Mr. Abraham's work was his penetrating look at the state of black America, such important work that will be his legacy. But he goes far beyond it with themes to which we can all relate -- the gun issue, the need for love and support.
There was no doubt that he is definitely a man for our time.