Dallas — The TITAS Presents series is known for bringing world-renowned dance companies to the Dallas area. Many of these companies carry decades of performance experience and legacies from generations past. While these tried-and-true companies are still vital to the performance world, I wonder, “Where are the new artists? Which choreographers have made their mark in the current generation?” That’s where Kyle Abraham steps in. Abraham in Motion (A.I.M.) challenges the traditional dance-viewing experience by fusing different genres of dance together to form a unique and unconventional movement vocabulary. Abraham’s distinctive urban style has grabbed the attention of dance fans and casual viewers alike, due to his focus on themes of social justice, hip-hop culture, and race. The performance reviewed was Friday, March 1.
In the only piece of the night choreographed by a guest artist, Andrea Miller’s state featured three females in black leotards arranged in a tight, triangle formation. Sultry beats from composer Reggie Wilkins allowed the dancers to pulse gently through a pattern of knee bends. A relaxed tone mirrored the steadiness of the accompaniment, featuring contracted upper bodies and buoyant steps. The second section continued this serene mood but added a layer of building stress as the dancers arched their backs on the floor and scooted with twitchy kicks in a uniform, contorted position. These awkward bends highlighted the abstract gestures of state and paired perfectly with the eerie sounds bubbling to the surface. Shadowy lighting signaled the shift into a solo section where each performer took turns flailing their stringy limbs in chaotic bursts. In a return to unison movement, the trio huddled together with melting bends and vouge-like hand and arm gestures for a satisfying conclusion.
As both choreographer and performer, Artistic Director Kyle Abraham himself presented INDY: a multi-sectioned solo full of distinctive gestures and emotional implications. Something particularly striking about this piece (and Abraham’s general aesthetic) was the immersive sensory experience. Minimal set/staging details provided an intimate and body-focused experience for both audience and performer. At times, the ambient sounds echoed through the theater with buzzing familiarity—allowing the viewers to settle in for the kinesthetic embodiment of these sounds. Abraham’s movement changed almost as quickly as the sections did. One moment his sassy catwalks and flamboyant hand gestures referenced themes of gender, sexuality, and identity; and in the next, he turned and rolled frantically through the space with desperation. This dramatic approach to character development continued through the following sections. His most notable and compelling character shift occurred as Abraham faced the back and struggled to release his wrists from imaginary handcuffs. This fighting motif continued as he contracted his shoulders in a sobbing motion and opened his mouth only to emit silent, empty screams before turning again to veil himself with a façade of composure. While his solo certainly excelled at character embodiment and emotional recollection, it ended without clear resolution.
The second solo of the evening, Show Pony, featured the stunning Marcella Lewis transitioning from deep lunges to surprising balances. Short and bold, the piece featured Jlin’s aggressive score and fierce, accented arm gestures. Like Abraham’s solo, the work focused on building a fiery personality and characterization. In between Lewis’ harsh stops, she inserted moments of mesmerizing fluidity in the undulations of her spine and spiraling upper body. Again, like Abraham’s solo, this characterization came to a close before spectators could make sense of this development.
Meditation: A Silent Prayer followed six A.I.M. dancers through an exploration of social injustice and racial inequality. Known for his work with themes of race, justice, and current events, Abraham seemed to be back in his element. However instead of the sharp, accented dynamics that he typically experiments with, this group piece had dancers floating through the space with swirling turns, swiping legs, and melting spines. Visually gentle and soothing, the movements contrasted the heavy tone created as familiar names like Treyvon Martin, Philando Castile, and Michael Brown Jr. boomed overhead. Adding to this solemn atmosphere was the audio of one viral video capturing a police shooting. But as these themes of racial tension and police brutality filled the space, I lost track of the actual movement. In this instance, the multi-sensory experience unfortunately took away from the dancing onstage.
The evening finished with Drive—a full ensemble piece full of blinding lights, busy staging, and forceful stops. Immediately, the drama began: bright backlights and an intensifying, bass-heavy musical accompaniment provided a theatrical background for the vigorous floor work and break-dance style freezes in the opening section. Fast popping chests mixed with rolling, rippling arms to create a building tension and climactic atmosphere. However, this tension never quite reached its resolution as the abrupt ending showed one single dancer walking forward in slow motion.