New York City choreographer and Pittsburgh native, Kyle Abraham, had quite a homecoming last night. As part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council season, he and his company performed their latest work, “Pavement,” at the Byham Theater downtown.
The welcome was more than warm. Among the usual crowd of dance enthusiasts were new faces in the packed house. And the excitement in the seats overflowed with Pittsburgh pride. Was I at a Steelers game, or a modern dance concert?
Abraham was first to enter the stage. A collective cheer rose up in the audience, followed by joyful tears from those who know him, love him, and have watched his dance progression throughout the years. Abraham didn’t begin dancing until age seventeen, but blossomed quickly into a talented technician and unique artist.
“Pavement” premiered last fall in NYC, but was inspired by the Pittsburgh neighborhoods where Abraham grew up. Abraham also used "The Souls of Black Folk," a book by W.E.B. Du Bois, and "Boyz n the Hood,” a film by John Singleton, to inform the choreography.
Specifically focused on Homewood and the Hill District, Abraham’s aim was to show how two once vibrant neighborhoods no long thrive as they used to. What felt even more significant to him were the buildings in these communities. Buildings that had previously housed small family businesses and a bustling jazz scene are now boarded up and decrepit.
Abraham posed the questions: “Do those buildings make you want to stay in your community? Or are those buildings a reflection of your community?”
The cast of seven (six men and one woman) succeeded in bringing emotion to the stage, with a heavy dose of reality. The set depicted a street scene, with a chain-link fence and basketball hoop. Local filmmaker, Chris Ivey, provided video images projected onto a small screen throughout the show.
There were many memorable moments throughout the fifty-five minute piece. Near the beginning, Abraham performed a powerful solo to the sound of gunshots and screams. Later, in an even more poignant moment, Abraham begged for money on the street, eventually crying out in desperation, “Help me.”
At other times, the dancers swept across the stage in solos, duets and group sections, signature to Abraham’s style - smooth undulating torsos, articulate arms, and intricate floor work. Then, again came the shots, a police radio, and a community of people in distress. Slow motion and stillness juxtaposed the larger, more frenetic movement.
The music was quite eclectic, ranging from opera to hip-hop. Abraham hoped the sound would bridge the gap between various styles. With Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway and Vivaldi, there was definitely something for everyone. More than that, though, the images created by the choreography gave the story its universal feel.
“Pavement” exposed issues in our day and age that we may already be aware of, but need continued attention. Because Abraham created the work with the honesty of his experience, rather than any hard-lined opinions, the show served as a thought-provoking and exciting discussion piece.
The conversation has only just begun.