Impressions of: Kyle Abraham and Abraham.In.Motion’s “Pavement” at BAM as part of the Next Wave Festival
Choreography: Kyle Abraham in collaboration with Abraham.In.Motion
Dramaturge: Charlotte Brathwaite / Editing Advisor: Alexandra Wells
Costume design: Kyle Abraham / Scenic and Lighting Design: Dan Scully
Sound Editing: Sam Crawford
Performed by: Kyle Abraham, Matthew Baker, Vinson Fraley Jr, Tamisha Guy, Thomas House, Chalvar Monteiro, Jeremy “Jae” Neal, Kevin Ricardo Tate
Music: J.C. Bach, Jacques Brel, Benjamin Britten, Antonio Caldara, Sam Cooke, Colin Davis, Emmanuelle Haim, Heather Harper, Donny Hathaway, Edward Howard, Concerto Koln, Philippe Jaroussky, Le Cercle de L’Harmonie, Alan Lomax, Ensemble Matheus, Fred McDowell, Hudson Mohawke, Alva Noto, Jeremie Rhorer, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carl Sigman, Jean-Christophe Spinosi and Antonio Vivaldi
Pictured above: Chalvar Monteiro, Matthew Baker and Thomas House
It’s a tentative gesture of welcome that opens Abraham.In.Motion’s Pavement. Choreographer Kyle Abraham extends a hesitant hand toward Chalvar Monteiro. The two men then engage in a visceral investigation, gyrating near each other but never touching. Finally, they slap their hands together in a hearty grip, Abraham bursts out a welcoming smile, and they embrace like brothers, exploding into a joyously fraternal dance — a full-bodied version of a handshake.
But something changes. As Monteiro continues his loose, swerving ditty, Abraham’s face turns cold. He raises his hands in a “time out” gesture. Seconds later, Monteiro is face down on the floor, hands wrenched behind his back as though tied together — a chilling image that repeats throughout the piece.
Pavement made its world premiere in 2012 at The Harlem Stage Gatehouse — only days after Hurricane Sandy radically altered New York City. Exactly four years later, after touring the country, Pavement returns to Brooklyn as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Just before the conclusion of a racially charged election, the homecoming of this provocative work seems apropos.
Pavement depicts a culture of senseless violence where friendships are fleeting and no one can be trusted. Intimate moments escalate as handshakes turn into fistfights. The work is largely inspired by the 1991 award-winning Boyz in the Hood, a film about teenagers living in the slums of Los Angeles. This revolutionary movie unflinchingly depicted the realities of urban life previously absent in mainstream culture.
Pavement is also personal, drawing on memories from Abraham's experiences going to high school in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, one of the historic black neighborhoods where culture flourished in the ‘50s. Jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington performed at local theaters. Years later, these neighborhoods have disintegrated into violence, poverty, and drug abuse. Pavement mourns the dissolution of culture in these once thriving neighborhoods and asks poignant questions about the state of black culture in America.
Dan Scully’s set evokes an urban backdrop. A chain-linked fence stretching across the back of the stage casts a somber shadow on the performers, and a single basketball hoop and backboard upstage left serve as a screen upon which images of urban destruction are projected.
The performers are male, with the exception of Tamisha Guy; dynamic and spritely, she stands strong among the men. Regardless of gender, the dancers all wear urban street wear: wife beaters, baseball hats, plaid button-ups, and sneakers, which they remove to perform more balletic movement.
The score is a collage of musical influences, reflecting Abraham’s diverse cultural identity. The likes of Vivaldi and Bach integrate with Donny Hathaway and Sam Cooke, patched together with street sounds and dialogue from Boyz in the Hood.
Abraham’s movement vocabulary is as diverse as his music selection. The subtle explosiveness of hip-hop meets the cat-like agility of ballet. While disparate, these genres flow together seamlessly.
Pavement peels back its facade of coolness to reveal the desperation that simmers beneath its surface. Abraham jokingly solicits money from his buddies: “Hey, bro can I get 25 cents for the bus?” His jovial request becomes increasingly desperate, spiraling into gut-wrenching screams of “Help me! Someone help me!”
The lights dim, red lights flash, and the sound of police sirens echo through the theater. The dancers, once bright and vibrant, fade into the shadows. We can barely make out their movement in the darkness, a striking demonstration of how society has turned a blind eye to these struggling communities.
After the dark night, dawn’s unforgiving light descends upon the scene. Abraham leaves us with a bleak tableau — bodies collapsed on top of each other, arms twisted behind their backs as though handcuffed. This closing image is not a resolution, but rather a demand for consideration. It forces important questions, questions that, four years after its world premiere, remain unanswered and more pressing than ever.
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