Abraham.in.Motion- by Ian Douglas
"I got to thinking," said Geppetto, "that I'd like to make myself a beautiful wooden puppet. Not just an ordinary puppet, you understand, but a marvelous one that could dance, fence with a little wooden sword and turn somersaults in the air. Then, with this marvelous marionette, I could travel all over the world and make him perform for people." -- The Pinocchio of C. Collodi, translated by James T. Teahan
The little puppet who longed to be a real human boy, wished on a star, and ultimately learned to discern truth from falsehood has nothing on Kyle Abraham.
There are, of course, many salient differences. Abraham didn't get his start in Tuscany in the 1880s, or in Walt Disney's candy-colored 1940s picaresque, but in a middle-class black family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He wasn't adopted by a friendly woodcarver, but grew up as the son of a couple employed by the Pittsburgh Public School System, where his mother worked as an elementary school teacher and eventually principal, and his late father served as a social worker, all-around sports coach, and community mentor. His sister Keshia, absorbing their parents' commitment to education, now chairs the English department at Florida Memorial University in Miami.
But Kyle Abraham has shared the iconic puppet's risky journey towards authentic identity. That journey, as a gay black man and an artist negotiating and resisting conventional categories, beats at the heart of Live! The Realest MC.
As a performer, the charismatic Kyle Abraham is no stranger to the Bates Dance Festival. He first appeared here in 2009, performing in David Dorfman's Disavowal. Local audiences may remember his dancing in Dorfman's Sly and the Family Stone-inspired Prophets of Funk.
Kyle Abraham was a high school student studying visual arts, piano and cello when he first discovered dancing -- seeing a video of choreography by Ulysses Dove, and later a live performance by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He started training at the Creative and Performing Arts High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and with the local Civic Light Opera Academy and eventually made the decision to study dance in college.
After graduating in dance from SUNY Purchase in 2000,Abraham had a short stint dancing with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, detoured into a sojourn in London, and finally made his return to New York to earn an MFA from the NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He began performing with Dorfman and in 2006, established his own company, Abraham.In.Motion (aka A.I.M.) in New York.
Live! The Realest MC draws on Abraham's 2006 break-out solo, Inventing Pookie Jenkins. In that work, the bare-chested Abraham wears an ankle length white tulle skirt and to a score that blends the boastful, electronica rap of Dizzee Rascal with gunshots and sirens, he shoulders a boombox, and performs a sinuous solo that is part b-boy, part Dying Swan.
Pookie Jenkins, as a character, marked Abraham's coming to terms with the quandaries he faced back in high school: if hip hop culture presumed a straight, exaggerated, homophobic hypermasculinity, where could a kid like himself find acceptance? I began to think about a time in my life when I prayed that I could go unnoticed, he has recalled, hoping that if I get my voice to sound like the other male students around me, I wouldn’t be found out, as gay. But with the media headlines surrounding the suicides of 13-year old bullying victim Ryan Halligan and college student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off the George Washington Bridge soon after his then-roommate caught him on webcam kissing another man, Abraham began to consider how he could explore the confining, and sometimes soul-killing, gender roles and cultural presuppositions within the hip hop community in a work for the theatre.
Live! The Real MC, which had its premiere in New York last December, is an ensemble piece for seven dancers that retains its hip hop heritage within a clearly crafted contemporary dance language. Abraham's own mesmerizing dancing is still at its center, where the articulation of bboying shifts into a different register with softness and a taste for ornament. Live! The Real MC operates in a world of raves and underground clubs where men can be divas, ladies can be butch, and an enbellished track suit peels off to reveal the glitter of sequins. Video opens to a window to the urban street and a clueless hip hop instructional video.
Kyle Abraham's quest for an authentic voice has reached an appreciative public. Abraham.In.Motion has a particularly active touring schedule, his awards have included a Princess Grace award, last year's coveted Bessie for The Radio Show and just this summer, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, which carries a prize of $25,000, making it one of the largest cash awards in the dance industry. It's the real thing and so, after learning to follow his own wishing star, is Kyle Abraham.
c 2012 Debra Cash