At Jacob’s Pillow, lush wonders from A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham
BECKET — Choreographer Kyle Abraham and his company A.I.M. (Abraham In Motion) have become beloved regulars at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the 10 years since they first performed here. They return this week, to our open arms, with a program of five dances.
Abraham has begun adding the works of outside choreographers to his company’s repertoire. In Andrea Miller’s handsome, enigmatic “state,” Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Catherine Ellis Kirk, and Marcella Lewis are like one organism, expanding, receding, advancing. While the large amount of unison movement is rivetingly crisp, the individuality of each dancer is sacredly clear. The composition’s tautness does slip with the series of solos, but these women’s star turns are worth it.
“The Quiet Dance” is the title of only one piece on the Pillow program, but it could just as well describe much of Abraham’s choreography. Though the vocabulary that he creates for himself and his dancers — a lush mix of modern and hip-hop dance — is weighted, the performative physical quality of it is hyper-tactile, the movement executed with a hushed precision. It is somehow contained, as if protecting its deepest secrets.
In other ways, Abraham lets it all hang out, particularly in his own appearances, which this week are limited to his 2018 solo “INDY.” Set to Jerome Begin’s now let’s-go-clubbing, now take-me-to-church score, Abraham, costumed in Karen Young’s whimsical fringed pants and top, likewise alternates between personas. Traversing the stage in repetitive patterns, cockily vogue-strutting, one hand perched insouciantly on a hip, or pacing with agitation, he uses restlessness to represent a shifting inner turbulence. Abraham has often made private angst public, or at least performative, leaving it up to the viewer to discern fact vs. fiction. Sometimes he has literally sobbed onstage, though in “INDY” his occasional anguish is silent, the grief visible in his hunched-over, heaving back.
It’s a kind of generosity to be so vulnerable, but Abraham’s thematic material can be uncomfortable, as if we’ve burst in on someone’s personal drama but cannot intervene. There’s a lovely balance, however, in Abraham’s beautifully poetic 2011 “Quiet Dance.” To pianist Bill Evans’s performance of Leonard Bernstein’s classic “Some Other Time,” five dancers often move in precise uniformity as if they are threaded together, yet there is an air of individual melancholy, certainly in the majestic Kirk’s largely solitary phrases, but also in the tender, faintly distant duets.
Meanwhile, the program’s other solo, the 2018 “Show Pony,” is a reminder of Abraham’s slyly subversive wit. On Wednesday night, Lewis, who alternates the role with the exquisite Tamisha Guy, slinked or sliced her way about the stage, at times moving powerfully in near-robotic isolations. Like the titular creature, Lewis sometimes seems trapped in lighting designer Dan Scully’s series of spotlights, but her final near-wink of a pose suggests that she’s in charge; that glow is following her, not defining her.
In Abraham’s 2017 “Drive,” Scully’s haze-filled, mysterious lighting design is evocative, the eight dancers slipping in and out of the shadows magically, thrillingly. Guy, Jinakunwiphat, Kirk, Lewis, and Matthew Baker, Claude “CJ” Johnson, Donovan Reed, and Jada Jenai Williams are all excellent. Though the only drama in this dance is physical, it is intensely compelling, and while some of the dancers are newer to A.I.M., the sense of ensemble is again striking. Abraham’s signature layering of unison work is amplified here — it’s wonderful to see one person’s solo become doubled, tripled, quadrupled, the overlapping as natural as waves rippling onto a shoreline — but it’s electrifying to see the specific gifts of each dancer in the mini solos peppered throughout.
A.I.M. BY KYLE ABRAHAM
At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, through Aug. 4. Tickets $35-$78. 413-243-0745, www.jacobspillow.org