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Review: Abraham returns home with spirited 'Pavement' production

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Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, 9:39 a.m.


Kyle Abraham made a triumphant return to Pittsburgh on Saturday night when his dance company made its debut as part of the prestigious Pittsburgh Dance Council series. He brought his new work “Pavement,” for seven dancers, which was first performed in New York City in November 2012.

“Pavement” is a commentary on life for young people in urban black neighborhoods. It draws on his experience growing up in Pittsburgh; the film “Boyz n the Hood,” set in Los Angeles; and readings in black history and culture. Abraham is graced with the ability to tell his powerful story without being preachy or polemical. He lays it all out clearly with dance that is full of individuality and invention.

The set is simple, with a basketball hoop on the back wall. The backboard serves, from time to time, as a television screen, showing the demolition of a large public housing building, for example.

Abraham is the first to step on the pavement, beginning his piece with an expressive solo, full of energy and with distinctive fluidity of the shoulders as well as hip-hop angularity. It is a solo full of assertion yet also searching and unsettled.

The next dancer is a white male, who wrestles Abraham to the ground and pulls his arms behind him as though putting on handcuffs. He does the same to another black dancer, and keeps trying to keep them down when they get up to dance, ever more assertively. Yet he's not a policeman. In fact, he turns out to be another youth from the neighborhood. And the black dancers not only use the same subjugation move on each other, they do it to themselves.

Throughout all the action — all the incipient conflicts, the ones that break out, and the friendships – Abraham offers movement that is continuously compelling. Meanings depend on context. Running might be exercise or simply running away.

One of the choreographer's most delightful inventions begins with a single dancer running an oval around the stage, like a track. Other dancers join him one by one in the steady jog. Then when they're running like a track team Abraham introduces a jump, extending the rhythm beyond the steady left-right. Then the pace broadens, before they snap back into the steady jog. The dancers were very well rehearsed, performing in flawless unison.

Throughout all the conflict — including two episodes of gunfire, one single shots, the other automatic weapons — the dancers' spirits are irrepressible. They might pile up in the self-imposed gesture of hands behind the back as though handcuffed, but they pull themselves out and resume life. There's even a moment of romance with the one female dancer.

It must have been particularly sweet for Abraham to make his debut at Pittsburgh Dance Council, which presents leading ensembles from around the world. It also is the series at which his love for dance was ignited two decades ago.

The enthusiasm of the audience response had an element of familial warmth and pride. And why not? He thanked his family and teachers who nurtured him. His career is thriving in New York City now, but “Pavement” shows his home will be with him wherever he is.

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

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