A.I.M by Kyle Abraham brought more to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center than just excellent performances by the company’s incredible dancers. What the audience was gifted with was Art in the form of dance. Almost the entire repertoire that Abraham presented on Saturday, October 30, 2023 was introspective, reflective, and beautifully crafted choreography that did not try to dazzle the audience with a plethora of complex technical feats, but with a vision that had importance and meaning. Any dancer will tell you that Abraham’s movement takes technical strength and precision, but more importantly what came across was a vision that caused one to reflect on oneself, the world and life.

Kyle Abraham - Photo by Ken Browar and Deborah Oy

Kyle Abraham – Photo by Ken Browar and Deborah Oy

Making its west coast premiere, 5 MINUTE DANCE (YOU DRIVIN’?) was choreographed by Abraham in collaboration with A.I.M and the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at USC, class of 2024. The sometimes driving music was by Jlin, considered to be “one of the most forward-thinking contemporary composers in any genre” (Pitchfork). The work was a quartet for two men and two women and for this performance two of the dancers, Marcel Cavaliere and Jada Vaughan were USC students. If one had not read the program, they would have thought that these two were already professional dancers working with A.I.M by Kyle Abraham.

Basically, the work utilizes two duets that move in and out of sync and what impressed me was how Abraham worked slowness against swiftness. He did this both with how fast and how slowly the two duets were moving as well as how he used the music. The movement covered the space but it never appeared rushed. Indeed, at times the dancers glided like sailboats in the wind. About two thirds of the way through the dance, the couples changed partners and it looked like they were meant to do so.

5 MINUTE DANCE (YOU DRIVIN’?) was not a narrative piece but there was a conversation happening between the two couples and the audience.

The entire cast was Marcel Cavaliere, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Kar’mel Antonio Wade Small, and Jada Vaughan. The subtly exciting lighting design was Dan Scully and elegantly white costumes were by Karen Young and Kyle Abraham.

JUST YOUR TWO WRISTS (west coast premiere) was choreographed by Paul Singh in 2019 to just (after song of songs) composed by David Lang. It is a song love poem and performed with powerful sensibility by Amari Frazier. The movement was open and generous and reflects the lyrics without mimicking them. The lyrics told a story of someone totally in love with another and the character’s emotions came through sans emoting. There were times when I could almost see a second person onstage but the work always returned to the character’s inner feelings.

No credit was given for the stylish costume for Frazier that allowed the movement to be seen and never overpowered the dancer. Once again Dan Scully proved his artistry with his lighting design.

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham - Jamaal Bowman and Donovan Reed in "MotorRover" - Photo by Christopher Duggan

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham – Jamaal Bowman and Donovan Reed in “MotorRover” – Photo by Christopher Duggan

Also making its west coast debut was Abraham’s MOTORROVER, choreographed in 2023. Performed in silence, it was an amazing duet that highlighted the many talents of Jamaal Bowman and Donovan Reed. Again, stillness was evident. Technique without showmanship was visible. And Abraham’s ability to create beauty was prevalent.

The program notes stated that MOTORROVER was choreographed “in response to an excerpt from Merce Cunningham’s 1972 dance Landrover, and first shown digitally as part of “In Conversation with Merce,” an online program co-produced by Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Merce Cunningham Trust. I am not that familiar with this work of Cunningham’s but what I did recognize was how Abraham was influenced by Cunningham’s gift for making duets that became conversations and he fully captured Cunningham’s often off centered movement vocabulary. These two men could have been friends or potential lovers as they investigated, challenged, teased and wooed each other. There was also that “pure movement” quality throughout most of the duet until near the end when Bowman and Reed tried to out “camp” each other.

The fashionable, two color costumes were designed by Reid & Harriet and the Lighting Design was by Dan Scully.

I was surprised but not shocked when I saw that Bebe Miller’s 1989 solo RAIN was making its west coast premiere. It was a solo that was hailed by the critics in New York and elsewhere but never made its way here until now. Miller is a native of New York City and made her choreographic debut at NYC’s Dance Theater Workshop in 1978 and formed the Bebe Miller Company in 1985 to “pursue her interest in finding a physical language for the human condition.”

RAIN consisted of one dancer, Gianna Theodore, dressed in bright red, a large  but thin white mattress center stage and a single light special that never changes.  The original lighting was by Ken Tabachnick and came across as intentionally stark. With visual design by Miller, the dance is bleak, causing the red costume to stand out even more. The mattress beckons Theodore but she resists and her movement is at time torturous and distorted.

Reflecting the movement style of the 1970s and ‘80s, RAIN was pure modern dance as demonstrated through the body of Miller. It was a beautiful and individual reflection of one person’s struggle.

The original music for RAIN was by Hearn Gadbois; voices: Jay Bolotin and Rich Franko, cello: Robert Een. Additional music that was Miller’s inspiration for creating RAIN was by Heitor Vill-Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras #5 ; voice: Salli Terri, guitar: Laurindo Almeida. The original Costume Designer was Muriel Stockdale, recreated by Jon Taylor.

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham in "If We Were a Love Song" - Photo by Steven Pisano

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham in “If We Were a Love Song” – Photo by Steven Pisano

Generally speaking, one usually closes the program with a large group work filled with high energy. With IF WE WERE A LOVE SONG (2021) Abraham proved that that is definitely not necessarily a requirement. Built in six sections, this work included an opening septet followed by two solos, a duet, and then two more solos. No large closing high energy finale.  The music was seven songs performed by Nina Simone. The atmosphere was somber and reflective, Dan Scully’s lighting wonderfully reflected this. IF WE WERE A LOVE SONG is a tapestry of human mindsets.

The list of songs by Simone were Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, Keeper of the Flame, Little Girl Blue, Don’t Explain, Wild is the Wind, and Images. I could try to describe each section but that would not do justice to this work. One should first of all see and experience it. If you listen to Simone’s incredibly haunting music and voice, you will have a glimpse into Abraham’s soulful dance work.

The full cast included: Jamaal Bowman, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Faith Joy Mondesire, Donovan Reed, Martell Ruffin, Dymon Samara, and Antonio Wade Small. Each deserves shout outs for their stunning performances.

To learn more about A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, please visit their website.

To see the full 2023/2024 season lineup at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, please visit their website.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: A.I.M by Kyle Abraham – Keturah Stephen and Kar’mel Antonio Wade Small in “5 Minute Dance (You Drivin’?)” – Photo by Christopher Duggan