Andrew Pearson premiered his new one-man evening length work Abbale on Thursday, February 24, 2022 at Stomping Ground L.A. This was not a dance concert, but a multi-media theatrical dance-memoir about Pearson’s self-investigation into filling Daddy’s shoes. In Abbale, the term daddy means more than a normal father-son relationship.
The genesis of Abbale stemmed from a deep conversation that Pearson had with his partner at the time, Ben Jehoshua, about memories the two of them had of their fathers. Each experienced very different upbrings with a few similarities, but many interesting differences. When I spoke to Pearson he said that their conversation primarily revolved around gratitude for their dads. Jehoshua is fifteen years older and their conversation led Pearson ponder his propensity towards older men. “I thought that there was an opportunity there in that trifecta of our two dads and his daddy relationship towards me,” he said. “I was curious to explore what was at the center of that diagram.”
Pearson shared that in preparing for this new work he drew the text and script of the work from different articles or books; a process similar to what he used creating his last work Dearly Beloved: A Union, Out of Wedlock seen at Los Angeles’ The Ruby Street in 2018. He confessed that his first draft of Abbale included a wider range of historical figures to aid in illustrating his ideas of “daddy-ness” and the politics surrounding it, but after a reading with his Dramaturge, Script Developer and Director Lisa Owaki Bierman, it was decided that he should focus primarily on his and Jehoshua’s personal family stories.
“By telling your family stories, or parts of your family stories, the political stuff we’ll understand.” Bierman explained. Pearson said that the first childhood memory he shares in Abbale is when he was just two years old and Ben’s memory came from when he was four.
Born in 1987, Pearson grew up in Pleasanton, California located in Alameda County, and part of what is known as the Bay Area. He declared that the name, Pleasanton, says everything that one needs to discern about the town. Because Abbale was about he and his partner’s fathers, I was curious if they were close to their fathers. The answer was yes but that for him the relationship changed as he began attending middle and high school. Pearson became more and more involved with his dancing at this time, so he and his father spent less and less time together. “I don’t know how much of that was being a teenager, or how much of that was being a gay dancer,” He said.
Pearson grew up with a great deal of support from his family in whatever he did and instinctively knew that it would be safe to “come out” to them but that he did not come out as being gay to himself until he was 18 or 19 years old and he was 20 when he told his parents. Jehoshua grew up in Haifa, Israel and relocated to Los Angeles at age 19 following the death of his father. His father had been paralyzed in an accident and Jehoshua had spent much of his youth taking care of him. During the show, one learns that the Hebrew word for daddy is abba’le.
When questioning why he chose specific excerpts of his and Jehoshua’s life, Pearson said that he looked carefully at whether or not these real memories of he and his dad, Jehoshua and his dad, and he and Jehoshua, spoke to the heart of what he was seeking while creating this new work.
Pearson did a staged reading of the script for Abbale as it existed at the time back in February of 2020, right before the pandemic shut everything down. He said that he was asked a lot of wonderful questions and received some very lovely feedback, and that the main question asked was, “Why are you telling this story?” It was an important question that he then dived into while re-working his script.
Although the pandemic stopped Pearson’s momentum on producing Abbale, it provided a rare opportunity of having an additional two years to sit with the script. “It was a kind of lifeline for me creatively,” Pearson said. “ because I would get on the phone with Lisa (Bierman) and we would just tear the script apart, create draft after draft.” During this time he also did readings for other people to get their responses, but it was not until after everyone was vaccinated in mid-2021, that everyone involved decided that it was time to finish the project and set a performance date. It was only then that Pearson finally had a chance to get into the studio to work on discovering and creating the physical aspects of the piece.
In the past, Pearson has incorporated sets and props into his work. Abbale is no different. There is a large television/video screen for videos and family films to be projected; a pair of shoes that are several sizes too large for Pearson to help give the illusion of his being a child; a gray raincoat and an armless swivel chair that he very creatively weaves into his choreography. Although much of the sound is live and recorded spoken word, Abbale includes musical arrangements and vocal performances by Kevin DeKimpe, John Lucido and George Michael.
Because this production is a memoir, Abbale is extremely personal. It is wonderfully performed and revealing not just of Pearson’s private life, but it uniquely addresses issues of family dynamics, coming out as gay, and graphically examines specific labels put upon the LGBTQ+ community.
Abbale was Written, Choreographed and Performed by Andrew Pearson; Story by Andrew Pearson and Ben Jehoshua; Direction, Dramaturgy and Script Development by Lisa Owaki Bierman; Musical Arrangements and Vocal Performances by Kevin DeKimpe, John Lucido and George Michael; Additional Sound Design Kevin DeKimpe; Video Design Ben Jehoshua; Lighting Design Andrew Pearson and Ric Zimmerman; and Costume Tailoring by Foreste Jean.
To learn more about Andrew Pearson, please visit his website Bodies In Play.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Andrew Pearson in “Abbale” – Photo by Brian Hashimoto