Wednesday, May 17, 2017

"Dearest Home"

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion
Matthew Baker and Connie Shiau in Dearest Home
Photo courtesy of Time Barden
Dearest Home
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, San Francisco
May 16th, 2017

Building a new work requires a choreographer to wear so many different hats. Securing funding, crafting movement, rehearsing, championing the interdisciplinary collaborations, even booking, publicity and photography might be part of the picture. And then there is a whole other entity to consider, the audience. Is the dance going to have a traditional viewer/artist relationship or does the work speak to a unique kind of audience engagement? Maybe one where the viewer has a more participatory role in the artistic process.

Kyle Abraham’s Dearest Home, which saw its premiere last night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, took an innovative and bold approach to audience engagement. As the crowd entered the space, every person was given their own headset, and in the introductory remarks, Abraham shared that the dance was designed to be experienced either in silence or with Jerome Begin’s original score streamed through the headphones. The choice was ours. I chose the latter.

The audience was arranged around the perimeter of the stage space with four entrances at each corner. To open the work, Abraham.In.Motion’s company artists entered from these various corners, each with a different dynamic. Slow and methodical met with nonchalant pedestrianism; stylized precision with abandoned frenzy. But no matter the intention, the clarity of the movement was overwhelmingly satisfying, be it a glance, a sustained relevé long in second position or a twisted sculptural pose.  

Over the next hour, an array of storylines were layered together in the space, told through solos, duets and trios. Many, though not all, of these distinct narratives unfolded on the diagonal (especially in the first half of Dearest Home), sending a powerful message. A straight pathway on which complex ideas would develop; the juxtaposition and collision of the two was striking.

Duets would morph in and out of unison suggesting a shared understanding that was constantly fracturing and healing, over and over again. One solo, featuring a lush super passé, felt caught in old patterns; attempting to move forward but still stuck in what was. Tender embraces spoke of comfort, though they too sometimes shifted to the other extreme, revealing trembling and fear. Another solo, lit by shin busters, seemed tortured and pulled in two disparate directions – panicked staccato movements falling into sustained living postures. And a lengthy duet for two women was packed with motifs that conjured images of swimming, including a moment where the two looked like they were shaking water off their limbs. Perhaps a metaphor for shaking off a particular situation, or the past in general.

Clothing served as an important throughline in Dearest Home, with the ensemble buttoning and unbuttoning, tucking and untucking shirts and carefully folding clothes that they had taken off. Fixing and organizing, as well as saying farewell to their outer shell, sang through these various gestures and tasks.

Another throughline in Dearest Home was that it felt through-danced. While there were clearly different stories at play, different sections and different lines of thought, the continual flow of the work meant that there was not even an inkling of the stops and starts that could have crept in. Speaking of the dancing, the movement quality in Abraham’s choreography was something to behold as was the dance artists’ profound communication of the phrase material. Such wonderful attention to the specificity of the foot, whether in passé, in coupé, or just in transition from one step to another. And I was also struck by their phenomenal sense of timing. For me, listening through the headphones, the score and the movement were so connected; it was easy to forget that the cast wasn’t hearing a thing.

At sixty-five minutes, Dearest Home, did seem too long. Though, the fact that opening night got off to a very delayed start (between twenty and twenty-five minutes late) may have been a contributing factor to that feeling.

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