When speaking about the subject matter of her work, Nina Simone once said, “I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself… I don’t think you can help but be involved.” Choreographer and Artistic Director, Kyle Abraham of the dance company A.I.M. (Abraham in Motion), mirrors that sentiment. Traveling the world telling stories through a fusion of classical and modern movement filled with social commentary, and based on his experiences as a native of Pittsburgh, and at times, through the lens of a Black and Gay man in America and abroad.
Abraham’s work has provoked a rise in consciousness, especially while coexisting during some historically significant and political occurrences. In 2011, Abraham was labeled as “the best and creative talent to emerge out of New York City in the age of Obama” by OUT Magazine. When Abraham describes the core of his inspiration, he says, “My work is based in how I feel my place is viewed in this world. Because of labels and self-identifiers, it has become a part of the work.”
However, he states that his work has not been affected by the latest political shift. Not for lack of inspiration but from always being in a position to experience some of the injustices first hand in America. “It’s a tricky time for ‘woke’ black folks because we are well aware that this is nothing new,” says Abraham. “Some of the sexism, racism, and homophobia was quieted. People who are filled with hate feel like they have power right now because someone who they relate to, with similar privilege is currently in a place of power,” he continues. This is evident when they perform pieces such as “Pavement,” based on scenarios in the early 90’s that audiences compare to the tragedies of young lives lost such as Trayvon Martin.
On the lighter side, though some of his work is formed from history and current events in the U.S., as a touring company, A.I.M. has taken Abraham and his dancers around the world. But Abraham admits that he has only started to take personal vacations over the last three years. Fresh off of a personal vacation to pay homage to Prince at Paisley Park in Minneapolis, then Venice, Berlin, Madrid, and Amsterdam, Abraham recalls the inspiration gathered, and significance of this trip. “The first dance I ever made, and showed to other people was to a Prince song. It was overwhelmingly inspiring. Amsterdam is one of the only places in the world where you can get lost and not be mad about it.”
His travels and experiences have allowed him to discover his own correlation between inspiration and relaxation. Highlighting the impact of creating new work in residencies far away enough from busy cities and daily stressors that trigger the need to put up a wall around oneself. The dancers bond and form another level of comfort that allows for the freedom for new work to be birthed from joy and trust. On a personal level, Abraham, ventures out into new and unfamiliar areas not feeling pressured to be inspired by his surroundings, “I’m in such a relaxed place that inspiration finds a way into my bloodstream.”
As opposed to a newsletter from the director, Abraham has encouraged the dancers in the company to give their own first-person account of their adventures abroad on their blog “Letters from the Road.” The touring company gives the dancers an opportunity to experience what it was like for Abraham as a solo dancer on the road. The blog showcases individual dancers’ recollections of exploring the sights, sounds, and foodie culture of the areas surrounding their hotels and performance space.
Dancers describe finding new places to eat in between sleep and rehearsals and taking in the audiences’ reactions to their performances while at times overcoming challenges like performing on certain stages not particular designed to be dance friendly, and allowing their nerves to push their bodies to the limits while giving their all in a performance.
He continues to wrap each of the lessons he learns and situations he observes into beautiful and heartbreaking movements that transport you to another place…no passport required.
Abraham recalls one of the most powerful moments captured by dancer, Catherine Kirk on “Letters from the Road,” the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. “The company performed in Alabama in Selma, Montgomery, Birmingham. I remember walking across the bridge. It was emotional for all of us.”
He shares that he’s not always there for the moments the dancers have shared on the blog. Being the Director and at least ten years older than most of the dancers has created a “kid by themselves at the lunch table” scenario at times. He also had a “precarious relationship with touring and being on the road,” due to the urge to grow a relationship that required him to be more physically rooted. But the breakthrough was being able to embrace the beauty of being given the opportunity to tour the world, and one day deciding to take a walk instead of feeling like an outsider that allowed him to relish in the time he had for self-exploration. In turn, experiencing what many solo travelers do… the joy of independence. By exploring the cities on his own he could enjoy the local culture, finding restaurants, checking out the other performers in the area, and listening to local radio. Another side effect was a lesson Abraham applied to his personal and business relationships, “I don’t have to wait for anyone,” he exclaims.
“You have to have a certain amount of privilege in this world to be ambivalent to the world when making art,” says Abraham. Whether in his hometown in Pittsburgh or across the pond performing in sold out venues, Abraham stays true to sharing his world, leaving his heart, and stories of discovery, loss, and love on the stage. He continues to wrap each of the lessons he learns and situations he observes into beautiful and heartbreaking movements that transport you to another place…no passport required.
Find out more about Kyle Abraham and A.I.M. by visiting http://www.abrahaminmotion.org/ Follow the adventures of the dancers in their Letters from the Road here: http://aimontour.tumblr.com/