Saturday, October 4, 2014

Kyle Abraham's Watershed

The Watershed. Photo: Ian Douglas
There's no doubt that Kyle Abraham is one of the hot choreographers of the moment, as evidenced by his residency at New York Live Arts, including a two-week run of performances, and a MacArthur fellowship last year. Not to pity him, but it's a lot of pressure for a relatively fresh talent. When many experienced choreographers are tasked with creating an evening-length work and a respectable budget, they can overshoot or fall short.

Abraham.In.Motion performed The Watershed, a full-length work with striking set elements by renowned artist Glenn Ligon. It impressed on many levels, prominently in Ligon's sets—a plywood paneled backdrop that glowed under Dan Scully's lighting, a PVC tree draped with Spanish moss and other feathery detritus; these were augmented by occasional projections of films including stereotypical casting of blacks—tapping with Shirley Temple, in porn, in blackface. Karen Young's costumes, which changed from first-half street wear evocative of modern and Colonial garb, and sleek modern tunics and leggings that we will hopefully all be wearing in a few years. 

Most significantly, Abraham's choreography—expressive, grounded, gestural but not trite, evocative of a number of movement languages—remained compelling and fresh throughout the 70-minute performance (with an intermission). Some of the visual elements were blunt reminders of African-Americans through history, including the film clips, but also the ritual sacrifice of an innocent watermelon. The company comprises dancers of varied physiques,  all powerful interpreters of the hybrid style, in particular, the dynamic Tamisha Guy, who repeatedly leapt in long strides holding her petticoat aloft. In the second half, the time-setting shifted a century forward; lighting created lines and dashes on the marley. In a demonstration of Abraham's nuance with referents, the dancers ripped open the backs of their modern uniforms, summoning thoughts of slavery and lashing—or perhaps merely ventilating themselves. 

Abraham is the source of the movement, and although he is on stage the least, one quick stage crossing spoke volumes. He began as if sashaying on a runway, and morphed into a street-wise strut. It was a brief moment that referred to gender and race expectations in a society that still largely pigeonholes people according to both.  

No comments: