The USC Visions & Voices presented Kyle Abraham’s An Untitled Love (2021) at the university’s Bovard Auditorium and almost every seat was filled. Abraham is the Founder, Artistic Director and Choreographer of the New York City based A.I.M by Kyle Abraham which has performed around the globe to well-earned high praise. Set to music by Grammy Award–winning R&B legend D’Angelo, An Untitled Love comes close to being a story ballet or a play as it guides the viewer through interactions between friends and family within the Black community. The pace is intentionally slow and always strikingly sensual.
The set consists of a couch covered with clear plastic, an end table, a lamp and a green plant, all sitting on a large area rug. With the exception of a street lamp and another amber colored lamp that fly in and out, the set never changes. With the aid of the extraordinary lighting design by Dan Scully and visual art by Joe Buckingham, however, the locations and times of day shift and are seen through a different lens. Scully uses soft household hues as well as brilliant reds and deep blues to accomplish his and Abraham’s vision and the very appropriate pedestrian costumes by Karen Young and Kyle Abraham not only allow the viewer to see the movement clearly, but provide each character with their distinct personality.
And there are many personalities; ten to be exact and no matter what background you come from, they are recognizable due to Abraham’s choreography and the excellent acting abilities of every single member of this amazing company. Though the movement is based in Afro modern/contemporary dance, anyone can relate to who these people are. There is the self-reliant but lonely woman, a same sex/lesbian couple, a somewhat shady but sincere man from the hood, a gay man who could pass as straight, a somewhat flamboyant transgender man, and others who portray someone you might know.
Abraham does not let us forget, however, what separates these people from others. Following a somewhat humorous and spectacularly performed solo by Donavan Reed, he reminds us that each and every day this Black community lives with fear; fear of discrimination, harassment, and being murdered. Beginning with the character played by Reed who has just reveled in his being an openly Black gay man, he and several others are shot down as we listen to the voice of Clippers coach Doc Rivers saying, “It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” (LA Times) The quote is from a 2020 post-game statement to reporters following the shooting of Jacob Blake by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Abraham did not dwell on this aspect of the community, but continued to show, what many know or should know, is that the Black community is made up of people with the same aspirations, desires, faults, and needs as any other culture of people.
What stood out for me during the performance of An Untitled Love was how Abraham acted as theater director along with his choreographic visions. He introduces each character, takes the time to develop their personalities, and the viewer watches as the relationships between the ten people develop and intensify. Even within group sections, each character and personality is clearly visible, and Abraham’s musicality is impeccable. He weaves his characters through D’Angelo’s song while visualizing them literally and abstractly. Solos mingle with duets, trios and quartets.
I loved the quartet of women friends/relatives while sitting together on the sofa. Their movement told the viewer what they were gossiping about, what and whom they disagreed with, and the love that united them. All the dancers were amazing, but special kudos go out to Catherine Kirk and Martell Ruffin for their outstanding work.
An Untitled Love took a bit of patience to sit through as Abraham was in no rush to reveal the individuality of those in this life and because of the care that he took with each dancer’s movements, large and subtle, it was obvious that he relishes D’Angelo’s music.
The incredible and inspiring cast of performers included Jamaal Bowman, Tamisha A. Guy, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Catherine Kirk, Jae Neal, Donovan Reed, Martell Ruffin, Dymon Samara; Kar’mel Antonyo Wade Small, and Gianna Theodore. To see their faces and learn more about each one, please click HERE.
Other credits included: Choreography: Kyle Abraham* in collaboration with A.I.M; Music: D’Angelo & The Vanguard; Scenic & Lighting Design: Dan Scully; Visual Art: Joe Buckingham; Costume Design: Karen Young and Kyle Abraham; and Sound Editor: Sam Crawford.
If you missed this performance or wish to see A.I.M by Kyle Abraham again, the company is performing a totally different program titled Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth on February 18th at 8Pm at The Soraya Center for the Performing Arts at California State University, Northridge. For more information and to purchase tickets, please click HERE.
For more information about A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, please visit their website.
For more information about USC Visions & Voices, please click HERE.
To learn more about the USC Bovard Auditorium, please visit its website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: A.I.M by Kyle Abraham – Tamisha A. Guy and Claude “CJ” Johnson in An Untitled Love – Photo by Christopher Duggan