ARTS & IDEAS: Choreographer Kyle Abraham ran an errand up to Massachusetts before arriving in New Haven. He had to collect a check for $25,000, part of an annual award given by the renowned Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires of Western Mass. The prize is one of the biggest in the perennially cash-strapped world of dance, and past recipients are among the giants of the art form, including Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones and Crystal Pite.
"I was so surprised to see the past winners," says Abraham, whose seven-member dance troupe Abraham.in.Motion has a five-night engagement at this year's Arts & Ideas Festival. "I don't really belong on that list."
Well, he does. But no one minds a little modesty.
Abraham is acclaimed for combining elements of ballet, modern dance and hip hop into seamless aesthetic. Dance magazine named his an artist to watch in 2009. His newest production, called The Radio Show, takes its inspiration from an AM-FM radio station that's no longer in operation in his native Pittsburgh. It used to broadcast classic soul, contemporary R&B and call-in talk shows that offered advice on sex, politics, and whatever was vital at the time to the local African-American community.
Abraham uses the idea of radio signals fading in and fading out in time and space as a metaphor for his father's aphasia (a disorder that debilitates language) and Alzheimer's disease. The entire work is an attempt to express the cultural identity of his neighborhood and themes of family and memory.
"I wanted to talk about the pain of loss, of losing a radio station that served so many for so long and of losing my father and his memories," he says. "I decided to focus on memory, the memory of road trips where all there is to do is listen to the radio, hearing it go in and out. I remember my father, how his mind would come and go."
How does a choreographer begin creating a show that's really an abstract narrative about the loss of communication, one set to soul, R&B and recording of those call-in shows? Easy. From the beginning.
He says the process starts with improvisation, but ends with collaboration. It sounds a more hippy-dippy than it is. Duke Ellington wrote scores with individual soloists in mind, like Johnny Hodges and Cat Anderson.
"The question is how to create movement that addresses issues of father and family," Abraham says. "So I improvise with an objective, an objective geared toward something. I clear my mind to generate material, a free-flow of thoughts. Then I get together with my dancers and we dissect what I've come up with.
"It's all relationship-oriented and it all tries to tell a story."
IF YOU GO: What: The Radio Show by Kyle Abraham and Abraham.in.Motion When: 8 p.m. June 19-22; 4 p.m. June 23 Where: Iseman Theater, 1156 Chapel St. Tickets: $35-$45 Info: artidea.org
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