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Kyle Abraham's 'Pavement' a long time in coming

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 8:37 p.m.
Kyle Abraham's '' Photo by Ian Douglas

Success is coming in a rush now for Kyle Abraham, but, as is almost always the case, it's not an overnight stroke of luck.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, dancer and choreographer Abraham was named one of “25 to watch” in 2009 by Dance Magazine. The next year, he won a Bessie and a Princess Grace Award for his “The Radio Show.”

In 2012, he was named United States Artist fellow, which included a $50,000 unrestricted stipend; introduced his new piece “Pavement” with his company and created his first piece for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, called “Another Night.”

Pittsburgh Dance Council will present his company, performing “Pavement” on Saturday night at the Byham Theater, Downtown.

Abraham, 35, began thinking about what would become “Pavement” in 2010 at the same time he was performing “The Radio Show, which also is rooted in Pittsburgh. John Singleton's 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood,” which was nominated for two Oscars, was the starting point.

“From there, everything fell into place,” he says. “I revisited W.E.B. Du Bois' ‘The Souls of Black Folk' and Isabel Wilkerson's ‘The Warmth of Other Suns.' As I was reading and thinking about Pittsburgh history, I thought about where I was in 1991. The literature referencing post-slavery or hope is where we can be, what we're capable of. I looked at Singleton's film in 1991 as a statement of where we are.”

Although Abraham attended Schenley High School in East Liberty, he was from Lincoln-Larimer — neighborhoods with rival gangs.

“I saw a lot of genocide, self-genocide, really, with guns,” he says. “A lot of this is to do with self-hatred.”

Abraham had other interests. He was drawn to 1950s and '60s artists such as Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, and the musicians who thrived at the Crawford Grill.

“There were all these buildings which had so much vitality and by '91 were boarded up and falling down,” says Abraham. “I wanted to make a statement about how we see ourselves in relationship to those buildings that were rotting.”

“Pavement” is for seven dancers — six men — and lasts about an hour. Abraham set the piece to a variety of music, but it's predominantly operatic.

“I included songs written for castrato singers. I thought that an interesting metaphor for ‘Boyz n the Hood,' because a big part of its message is that the choices we make are what make us men,” he says.

Abraham's decision to pursue dance came during his senior year at Schenley, when he went to study for a half-day at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school, Downtown.

“Pittsburgh Dance Council brought Joffrey Ballet that same year,” he recalls. “They performed ‘Billboards,' all to music by Prince. I went because of Prince and it really opened my eyes to dance. From there, I went to musicals and dance class at CLO, which really got me going. (One of my teachers at Schenley High School) Buddy Thompson suggested the CLO to me. He used to drive me sometimes from high school to the CLO. He was really supportive.”

Abraham went on to study at the State University of New York in Purchase, N.Y., and for his graduate degree at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in New York City. He danced with various companies in New York City before founding in 2006.

Pittsburgh continued to help nurture Abraham's talent through residency programs initiated at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty by its executive director Janera Solomon.

“We premiered two of our three evening-length works at the Kelly Strayhorn,” he notes. “We were given a residency the year before we finished ‘The Radio Show.' It went on to win a Bessie, a lot due in part to that experience and having technical times in the theater.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

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