Although Kyle Abraham has performed at The Joyce before, this is his company’s first weeklong engagement there – a major milestone in the career of a young choreographer. “I’m crazy excited,” says Abraham. “One of the first performances I ever saw in New York was at The Joyce.”
For Abraham, 38, there has been much to be excited about. To say he’s received numerous awards does not do justice to the impressive list that includes a “Bessie,” a Princess Grace, a USA Ford Fellowship, a Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, and most notably, a MacArthur “Genius” award, granted in 2013.
But choreographers don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels, and Abraham is no exception. His company premiered four new works last year, including The Gettin’, which will be featured in The Joyce run. For this work, Abraham asked the Grammy award-winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper to reinterpret We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, released in 1960. “The Roach album,” Abraham says, “was written in response to the Civil Rights Movement, and the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.” In this work, Abraham wanted to reflect on “where we are, or were, 50 years later.”
The program will also include the world premiere of Absent Matter and a revival of The Quiet Dance, which was first performed at The Joyce in 2011. In some ways, Absent Matter is related to Black Lives Matter, Abraham explains. “It’s a work that is inspired by the celebrated deaths in Hip Hop, like Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac, where so much of their music was about them dying… It’s very rare that people are talking so much about black lives, and the death of black men,” he says.
With The Quiet Dance, Abraham turns toward the personal. Made as his father was dying and suffering from aphasia, a condition that leaves you unable to communicate, the dance is gentler and more formal than Abraham’s other works. “I went to see [my father] when he was in hospice. He had fallen and he had several injuries, but he couldn’t talk about them, he couldn’t speak,” recalls Abraham. “I was just thinking about all that pain that must be in him that he couldn’t really express. So, it’s really subtle.”
One senses that Abraham, too, is striving to speak, sometimes quietly, often more mightily. As one of the most promising voices in contemporary dance washes over us, we listen with hope.
Written for The Joyce Theater.