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Review of Kyle Abraham / Abraham.In.Motion – Pavement

Pavement: Rena Butler Maleek Washington - Photo by Steven Schreiber
Pavement: Rena Butler Maleek Washington – Photo by Steven Schreiber

Pavement is a beautiful and affecting representation through movement and music of the tragedy that is soaring personal aspiration tethered by the grim reality that is black America.

Kyle Abraham, choreographer and performer, along with six other dancers from his company, Abraham.In. Motion, dance Pavement in modern clothes, making affecting use of multiple dance forms, including balletic movement in bare feet. They also put on trainers, walk, jump and run. There is energy, suppleness and grace.

Influences are varied including Merce Cunningham as well as Prince. One dancer is dead on the floor throughout. There’s just one woman. Though there is a love connection the focus is mostly on the men, taking a look at gang culture and initiation. Abraham investigates the state of Black America and its history, including the changes of recent decades. There is one white dancer.

Pavement was first performed in 2012. It has not dated at all, rather it feels fresh and urgent given the events in America of the last year. It is a great opportunity to see this work in London.

An important influence on Abraham was the 1991 film Boyz N The Hood which Abraham thinks of as an idealised ‘Gangsta Boheme.’ Pavement channels both these aspects propelled by a glorious soundtrack incorporating opera, Bach and Vivaldi as well as Sam Cooke, the chatter of schoolboys talking about homework and, once, voices of screaming fear.

With this lyrical linking of sublime beauty with the reality of being black in America Pavement has associations with Barry Jenkins’ wonderful film, Moonlight. (Pavement came first.) Maybe these are just the superficial cultural reference points of a white woman. What must be true however is that by talented black creatives harnessing the musical language of white culture in works about black Americans their messages are communicated in universal terms to a diverse audience. Pavement was performed to a full house with such an audience in Sadler’s Wells on opening night.

4 stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Pavement is set in a culture plagued by discrimination and genocide in Pittsburgh’s historically black
neighbourhoods. Performed with seven dancers in Abraham’s trademark interdisciplinary style, which Abraham
typically refers to as a ‘post-modern gumbo’, combining balletic and hip-hop movements, the work is set to an
eclectic mix of Bach, Benjamin Britten, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway and extracts from operas all mixed with
sounds of the city to bring this powerful dance to life.

Pavement, created in 2011, is inspired by the writings of American civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, Abraham’s
own childhood in the early 90s growing up in Hill District of Pittsburgh and the 1991John Singleton film, Boyz N
The Hood, a film that, for Abraham, depicted an idealised “Gangsta Boheme” laying aim to the state of the Black
American male at the end of the 20th century.

Listing information:
Kyle Abraham / Abraham.In.Motion
Sadler’s Wells, EC1R 4TN
Friday 17th – Saturday 18th November 2017


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