Date night. It’s the night you simultaneously dread and are indescribably eager for, the night you fuss over for hours — days? — beforehand. If your night goes anything like New York City-based choreographer Kyle Abraham’s “Date Night” goes, however, you needn’t worry.
Last Tuesday, Abraham presented his work-in-progress, “Date Night,” which was set on and performed by a group of ten Emory Dance Company members. His presentation was a part of the dance department’s “Dance in Progress,” a series of events featuring departmental, local and national choreographers who show their work and discuss their choreographic process. The complete work will premiere at Emory Dance Company’s fall concert Nov. 17-19.
Abraham “found dance” at age 17, after he had grown up playing music on the cello, the piano and more, he said, adding that he attributes his love for dance to his background in music.
Much of his choreography is informed by his personal experiences, but “it’s not until months later or years later that you realize, ‘Hey, that’s what it’s about,’” he said of his work. Though he said that he can’t pinpoint exactly what “Date Night” is about, he suspects the dating culture on college campuses influenced his work, as well as the unlikelihood of his landing a date in the midst of his constant traveling.
Abraham also said that he works with “found material,” or everyday, pedestrian gestures. He demonstrated this by asking the audience for four movements to improvise to. He was given a wave, a hair flip, the motion of drinking coffee and deuces, or throwing up two fingers with “swag.” He then performed a series of these movements in a hip-hop and modern fusion to Jay Z and Kanye West’s “Otis.”
“Date Night” featured elements of both personal and “found” influences. The piece incorporates theatrical aspects — such as when one male dancer tells a female dancer on stage that she is “the most beautiful thing [he’s] ever seen” and that she’s “on a whole different level,” before he asks her to the movies — as well as gestural choreography, which is seen particularly when a duet travels down the stage with specific hand movements while other members of the cast dance aside them.
Throughout the piece, those elements of humor are merged seamlessly with the classic idea of modern dance. Dancers walk in a pedestrian manner to get on and off the stage, and take transitional moments on stage to fidget and straighten their clothing before going into sometimes unprecedented high-energy movement.
During this process, Abraham said that he catered to each dancer’s talents. For example, the boys were given an athletic trio, while two girls with similar, flowy movement styles performed a duet indicative of their preferred movement quality.
Abraham also presented work from “The Radio Show,” a Bessie award-winning piece by his company Abraham.In.Motion. that dabbles with his place in society as a gay male.
The company will perform “The Radio Show” in full at Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts Feb. 23-25.
In his solo within the work, Abraham explained that the character is “between these two kinds of characters, between these two worlds I’m living in.”
The solo begins to the soundtrack of a YouTube video tutorial that offers “hip hop moves for men,” to which Abraham performs classic hip hop moves merged with elements of modern and classical dance as the voice in the soundtrack says, “you have to look really, really cool when you do it.”
As the music transitions to Abraham’s self-proclaimed favorite song, “Peace Piece” by Bill Evans, Abraham eventually sheds his Adidas tracksuit (which, he adds, is bedazzled down the sides in performance) as a sign of letting preconceptions and false ideas go before letting a pulsating, convulsing movement travel through his body.
The character, he noted, is “lost in this world, trying to live in this caricature and trying to be okay with who he is.”
His solo, he explained, ends different each time he performs it, depending on how he feels, which is reflective of his approach to performance. Rather than approach it as a performance, he explained, he prefers to view it as giving something to the audience.
“Performing is an interesting word,” Abraham mused. “If you’re your most giving self, you’re sharing and it’s by happenstance that people are watching.”
Chalvar Monteiro, a member of Abraham.In.Motion., also performed a solo from “The Radio Show.” Abraham explained that the piece is inspired by the story of Pinocchio, a puppet who wants to be a “real boy,” within the context of hip hop and with “gay undertones.”
“But it’s not about wanting to be a real boy,” Abraham said. “It’s about wanting to find real-ness.”
The solo uses hip hop as a way to find that “real-ness,” showcasing strength, power and speed to hip hop and dubstep music. Laced throughout the images of masculinity were feminine poses, shoulder rolls and shimmies. The solo ended with Monteiro in a showgirl pose, both hands in the air and one knee popped.
Abraham said that he is still toying with how to conclude the solo, noting that one idea is to have a male voice shout, “Get him!” as if the soloist is about to be jumped.
“So much of it is influenced by our perception of how women act and how they live their lives,” Abraham said of gay culture versus masculinity. In high school, he explained, in order not to be bullied, he spoke in a low voice and used hip hop vernacular and gestures to fit into a certain image. Now, Abraham feels comfortable speaking in a voice that is deemed higher-pitched than what men are typically known for.
When asked about his background and style of dance, Abraham said that rather than bog oneself down with dance vocabulary and particular names and labels, he “think[s] of it all as movement.” He said that regardless, choreographer Kyle Wynn is his “idol” and he is also influenced by dancers Merce Cunningham, José Limón and Martha Graham.
“I love all these ridiculous things in Cunningham movement. Like, can the body do that?” Abraham said.
Judging from Abraham’s and Monteiro’s excerpts from the “The Radio Show,” the answer is yes.
— Contact Alice Chen.