Even before Abraham.In.Motion’s dance performance, The Radio Show, begins, it is obvious the company’s choreographer Kyle Abraham is in character. Pre-performance, the dancer interacts with audience members, and he has a visible twitch in his hands and a doe-eyed look. During these interactions, he doesn’t say much.
In The Radio Show, Abraham plays his father, who battled Alzheimer’s and aphasia, and the dancer does an excellent job of conveying this to the audience while also weaving in new stories about WAMO, a much beloved but now defunct radio station in Pittsburgh.
In the midst of the first number, between exploring his space inside and at the edges of a huge spotlight center stage and passionately whipping his limbs around in every direction as if to lift his body into the air and down to the ground, Abraham goes to speak and unintelligible sounds are projected into the theater. As he exits, hunched over and hands shaking as if reaching for something outside his grasp offstage, other stories unfold.
Though the portrayal of Abraham’s father during his illnesses is prevalent at times in The Radio Show, his struggle only enhances the richness of every scene, giving it depth when it’s least expected. The dancers are too busy embodying static and taking turns pairing up for various emotional segments to be overshadowed by his journey.
Wearing high-waisted trouser pants and backless cream shirts, each dancer shines whether they are performing a solo or duet or acting as a backup ensemble. They move with a thrilling quickness and give a lightness to every step. There is a contemporary feel to their styles, with surprise martial arts and animalistic influences, yet everything is structured and there is no doubt that the Abraham.In.Motion dancers are classically trained. Every moment has been choreographed.
Sometimes in abstract modern performances, movements come from an inexplicable place of inspiration and creativity, which is inspiring but can be overwhelming. The Radio Show is nothing like that. It is down to earth and in touch with its audience. Abraham.In.Motion’s performance may symbolic and abstract, but it still manages to be relevant.
R&B classics and an undeniable Beyonce influence keep the tone relevant to today’s audience, too. The interpretations of the music are sassy when you hope they will be and poignant when Abraham decides there is no need for music at all. The soundtrack shuffles at times, and one can hear someone turning the dial on an old stereo as snippets of ’90s favorites boom from the stage for a brief few seconds and then morph into new songs. A romantic couple will be passionately arguing to a static, and then the dial changes and they are instantly the same couple in a different scenario.
After the brief “pause” mid-show, there is a segment of radio callers making requests, dedications, and chatting with the radio host. It is hugely entertaining and transports the audience to the WAMO-listener state of mind. There are social and political undertones to some of the songs.
There is an unabashed edginess to this troupe that compliments the tone of The Radio Show nicely. There is no hesitation when, in the second half, two of the female dancers tie their hair up on stage, ’80s style, and one girl pretends to pop her gum to the soundtrack, another chance to show how well this troupe can act. Dancers pair up as the scenes unfold, one after the other, an endless transition of stories within stories that share the same soundtrack. Props are used sparingly and only to make an impact. A girl stands, a silhouette in the background of another story, spritzing hair spray into the air around her, basking in the act and the soundtrack. It conveys more than a youthful memory, and it is deliciously enjoyable to watch.
The Radio Show ends as it began, with Abraham moving to the sound of the radio. Static fills the air, and we are captivated by his body language. His steps show determination, but his violently shaking hands betray how close he is to losing the battle.