From the minute Kyle Abraham hit the stage in “Pavement,” dribbling an imaginary basketball then taking that movement into fluid modern dance and back, his signature hip hop, streetwise trademark was in motion.
It is that simple urban beat–something as pedestrian, rhythmic, and socially iconic as a bouncing basketball that gives Abraham’s the juice of his choreography. That familiar beat, along with hand slapping “Give me five, nigger!” gesturing and, “Boyz N the Hood” jiv is the fodder he uses to poetically craft inner city street life into something transcendent. This fusion is also what has earned him some of the most prestigious dance awards over the past three years, and has him choreographing new works for everyone from Alvin Ailey to Wendy Whelan. Although, street hustle and gang vernacular has been used before–from Jerome Robbins’choreography in West Side Story to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” music video—there is something about Abraham’s aptitude as a dancer and choreographic style that is uniquely organic and fresh.
“Pavement” is like a video feed from a camera strapped to the chain link fence surrounding an inner city basketball court, where it indiscriminately records whatever activities transpire. With its five male and one female dancers in street clothes, it captures the day-to-day excess and spontaneity of gang violence, drug culture, and homelessness, with momentary attempts like shooting some hoops that flourish briefly in between the weight of gun shots and police sirens. The basketball court set, framed on upstage by a chain link fence is a point in time, an urban gathering place, where dancers causally walk on and off, run on, interact like old bros, repeal like gang rivals, jog in unison like a riot squad or hustle each other saying, “Help me, nigger! Help me! You know, me nigger…” Among the most powerful dance images is that of black male dancers being forced to the ground face down with their hands placed behind their backs by the two white male dancers, as if restrained during an arrest. This image repeats itself throughout with black dancers also putting down each other and with Abraham remaining on the floor for extended periods like a ghost of all of those that have ended up in his place and those to come while others dance indifferently around him. Also noteworthy is a dreamlike night sequence lit only by an off stage flashing emergency police light with dancers moving in its broken shadows.
This poetic inner city intensity is perfectly held together by sound editor, Sam Crawford’s music mix which includes everything from the blues to opera, bebop to hip hop, police dispatch broadcast, to solo piano and, the horror of women screaming hysterically over another gunned down family member or friend. “Pavement” delivers its message within the first thirty minutes of this hour-long production before repeating itself through several variations. Ultimately “Pavement” serves as a sampler to the talented world of Kyle Abraham and his collaborators, Abraham In Motion, rather than an enduring social comment or dance performance.