By Christine Ledbetter
AS YOU tiptoe back into performing art spaces armed with your vaccination card, you might want to move a little faster to catch Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham’s “An Untitled Love,” now on national tour.
Ten members of Abraham’s dance company, A.I.M., perform in a choreographic tribute to his hometown, Black community and Black love, set to the music of R&B artist D’Angelo.
At Playhouse Square in Cleveland, the 60-minute production, whose original opening in 2020 was stalled by the pandemic, kicked off DanceCleveland’s season Nov. 6. Next up the company performs Nov. 13 in Pittsburgh, the city which inspired parts of the piece, Abraham noted in a Pittsburgh Magazine interview.
Abraham has called his choreography “a pot of gumbo.” Certainly its roux is contemporary dance. But Abraham, who has won most of the awards for choreographic excellence that exist, also manages to throw in other influences such as Martha Graham, Balanchine and Cunningham.
The 44-year-old is one of the country’s most sought-after choreographers. He has received commissions from the Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet and the Paul Taylor Company.
As much theater as dance, “An Untitled Love” is like watching a joyous rom-com. A couch is the only real staging, and it serves as a community center with dancers jumping off or sitting down to participate in whatever’s going on in the neighborhood.
Roles are enacted sometimes with words. “I need a man with a house, and you hardly have a car.”
The splendid dancers couple romantically, or hang out with friends and family. Shoulder and hip rolls are accentuated by virtuosic movements that are part ballet, part street and part acrobatic. (In one case a headstand ends in splits!)
There is so much joy, and then there is tragedy.
In a seemingly random act, one dancer falls to the floor while another scoops him up in his arms. Then others fall to the floor, like stones dropping.
Abraham’s work often speaks to the reality of violence done to Black men and women. Because this, too, illustrates the Black experience and community.
His oeuvre is populated with uncomfortable truths, messages he wants his audiences to absorb.
In the program notes, he describes how he first heard D’Angelo’s music in 1995 as an undergrad at Morgan State University. “Within his songs existed the histories and neo-romanticism of Black Love in America.” The Million Man March occurred the same year, which Abraham calls a defining moment for Black Men to unite against injustice. As part of his movement journey he says, “It feels important to me to dive into a process that explores and celebrates that unity and that love in all its facets.”
“An Untitled Love” ends where it begins. On the community couch. The happy place.
“An Untitled Love,” A.I.M. by Abraham performs next in Pittsburgh. The tour has stops in Sarasota, Florida (Jan. 28-29, 2022); San Diego, California (Feb. 2, 2022); Brooklyn, New York (Feb. 23-26, 2022); DC’s Kennedy Center (April 29-30, 2022) and other states before ending in Paris in June, 2022. Check outfor more information.
“AN UNTITLED LOVE”
8 p.m., Nov. 13
101 Sixth St.
—Christine Ledbetter, the former arts editor of the Washington Post, lives in the Midwest and writes about culture.