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Celebrated choreographer Kyle Abraham comes home to Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 3:48 p.m.
'The Gettin' ' as performed by Abraham.In.Motion.
Ian Douglas
'The Gettin' ' as performed by Abraham.In.Motion.

Both ways in which Thomas Wolfe's observation “You Can't Go Home Again” apply are true for Kyle Abraham — places change over time and life's experiences change us after we leave home.

Even still, the celebrated choreographer and dancer is bringing his dance group back to his hometown, Pittsburgh, this weekend.

Abraham has thrived on the world's big stage, winning numerous awards, and now lives a bi-costal life. Going home is a tricky question for Abraham these days because he says he doesn't have one. His parents have died, and he now teaches dance at UCLA in the winter and spends the rest of the year in New York City. So where does he keep his clothes?

“I have a suitcase,” he says.

Abraham and his company, Abraham.In.Motion, will perform Nov. 10 and 11 at Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center.

Pittsburgh helped Abraham find his life's path. While he was attending Schenley High School in East Liberty, he began pursuing professional dance with the Pittsburgh CLO school. He started his own company in 2006 and found support from the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, which provided residencies and other opportunities for his still developing talent to mature.

In 2013, he won the MacArthur Foundation “genius award,” which he says brought him a lot of freedom.

“I never have to work with people I think aren't there to help me and bring me joy. I can stand up high,” he says. “Now I can hold my ground on things that are important to me.”

The program Abraham is bringing to Pittsburgh Dance Council is the last one his mother saw before she died in 2016. It will open with “The Quiet Dance” (2011), which is set to jazz pianist Bill Evans' version of Leonard Bernstein's “Some Other Time” from his show “On the Town.”

“I made it while thinking about my father,” the choreographer recalls. “He was in a hospice at the time and passed shortly after it was made. ‘The Quiet Dance' is a very personal work. We've done it often when someone passes.”

Issues of social consciousness and racial injustice are central themes in Abraham's work. “Absent Matter” (2015) exemplifies this focus, examining the racial perceptions of those who feel unacknowledged or without value. Filmmaker Naima Ramos Chapman provided the visual design. Kris Bowers contributed original jazz, which is combined with music by Common, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar.

The third work on the program is “The Gettin'” (2014), which features striking visual images from apartheid-era South Africa to the death of Eric Garner. The music by Grammy-Award winning jazz pianist Robert Glasper and his Trio was inspired by drummer Max Roach's “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite.”

Abraham enjoys a collaborative creative process.

“Everything we make is up for discussion,” he says. “I need their impact about the work.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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