Perhaps it's foolish to point out the physical marvel of a dance's company's performances; after all, it's the company's job to create art with their bodies, art that can be tortured or serene, graceful or aggressive. But the work that choreographer Kyle Abraham has put forth in his dance company A.I.M (Abraham In Motion), is absolutely stunning in both its physicality and in its synthesis of styles.
A dancer in Abraham's company might be moving to a decades-old blues song, or to a classical piece, or to a swaggering hip-hop beat. Since founding the company in 2006, Abraham has freely mixed the beauty of dance with the violence that African Americans seem to face every day; in 2015's Pavement, the dancers move from breakdance-inspired popping and locking to gorgeously synchronized ensemble movement to a terrifying moment of cacophony and fear when gunshots ring out. It's a striking, fiercely modern, almost avant-garde take on traditional dance, and it can take some audiences by surprise.
"I think oftentimes, people who are new to the company and the work come in not knowing what to expect," says Matthew Baker, a dancer with A.I.M since 2011, "so there's a period of adjustment. But I'd encourage people to come along for the ride and experience it and not worry about if they're correctly answering some question about the dance. It's about seeing the dance and deciding what it means to you. Hopefully people can come and enjoy it, and avid dance lovers can come and watch and appreciate it."
A.I.M's Spoleto program will consist of four pieces, three of which were choreographed by Abraham and two of which come from his recent works, Drive and Dearest Home. What's perhaps unusual for this company is that the fourth piece, Strict Love, was choreographed by Doug Varone, one of the few times that they've performed something that Abraham did not directly create. Baker says it's part of a recent effort by Abraham to include new collaborators in the company.
"It's Kyle's company, and in the past, he's been the only choreographer," Baker says. "But just this year he brought in some of his favorite choreographers to work with, in order to present the dancers in a new way and give them some exciting things to learn and grow from. One of those works, Strict Love, is in our Spoleto performance because we had an interest in including some of those outside pieces in our touring program."
Regardless of the new sense of collaboration, Baker says that A.I.M is still very much a product of Abraham's vision, one that's kept Baker in the company and working not just as a dancer but as a Choreographic Associate for seven years.
"I think Kyle's work is always coming from a very personal place," he says, "It's an honest place. There's an emotional side to his work that I was drawn to. I feel like his work can touch people and inspire people and reach people in a different way, and that's an amazing thing. I wanted to be part of that process because that's one of the reasons I dance. I want to see how it can influence other people's lives and perhaps help people see themselves in art. Maybe they'll grow from seeing this or start a conversation. And Kyle is really masterful at creating work that opens these types of doors for people."
In order to open those doors and mix the classical and hip-hop influences that help him create, Abraham relies heavily on his dancers to be both collaborators and vessels.
"I think Kyle's movement is a mix of a lot of different things, so he looks for an openness in dancers," Baker says, "a willingness to try different styles. Some of the dancers may have more training in one style or another, but it's about exploring different things. I think he's interested both in people who can create movement on their own and can pick up exactly what he does and repeat it. It's about creating the right blend or balance. He looks for people who are authentic and available and open to taking that journey with him."