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Pittsburgh dancer Abraham wins MacArthur award

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 10:09 a.m.
Kyle Abraham, a graduate of Schenley High School, studied at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School and the Civic Light Opera Academy. He has named a MacArthur Foundation fellow for 2013.
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Kyle Abraham, a graduate of Schenley High School, studied at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School and the Civic Light Opera Academy. He has named a MacArthur Foundation fellow for 2013.

Kyle Abraham's day began beautifully in San Francisco when his mother called from Pittsburgh to talk about his latest honor for his choreography.

Abraham, 36, who grew up in Lincoln-Lemington, on Wednesday became one of 24 MacArthur Foundation fellows for 2013. The honor, often called the genius award, provides a no-strings-attached $625,000 stipend paid over five years.

“I feel such a wonderful mix of emotions,” he said. “There's part of me that is just beyond relieved to think so many of my worries will be eliminated. I have, I think, over $180,000 in school loans, and it's nice knowing my rent will be paid.

“But part of me thinks about all the choreographers I look up to who don't have this prestigious award. I can't believe I won it.”

Abraham, a graduate of Schenley High School, studied at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School and the Civic Light Opera Academy. He earned his bachelor's degree in fine arts from the State University of New York at Purchase and a master's degree from New York University in New York City, where his company, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, is based.

The MacArthur Foundation's announcement called Abraham a choreographer and dancer who probes “the relationship between identity and personal history through a unique hybrid of traditional and vernacular dance styles that speaks to a new generation of dancers and audiences.”

“With diverse training in music, visual art and dance — and breathtaking skill as a performer — Abraham's highly physical dance vocabulary reflects the youthful energy of the hip-hop and urban dance he encountered in his adolescence, as well as a strong grounding in modern dance technique,” according to the announcement said.

The foundation, established by the late John D. MacArthur, who founded Bankers Life and Casualty Co., and his late wife, Catherine, terms the fellows “extraordinarily creative people who inspire us all.”

Fellowships go to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” the foundation says on its website.

Abraham's work is well known in his hometown. His company performed “Pavement” in its debut in the Pittsburgh Dance Council series in February. His 2010 work, “The Radio Show,” developed and premiered during a residency at Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty.

“Pittsburgh is my life, even if I'm not currently living there,” Abraham said. “It's my history, how I interact with people. It's all based on being from Pittsburgh, and my work is reflective of that. I make dances that are rooted in my life growing up in Pittsburgh.”

Abraham is rehearsing with the Los Angeles-based BODY TRAFFIC dance group for the premiere of his “Kollide” on Thursday. He's working on his next piece, “When the Wolves Came In,” for a September 2014 premiere.

“Creating comes from the multifaceted elements of who we are. I am a black, gay male and that is my perspective, whether or not all my dancers are black or white, gay or straight,” Abraham said in 2010 while discussing his work.

He'll next perform in Pittsburgh on March 22 for Pittsburgh Dance Council in the Wendy Whelan Project — a show in which the former New York City Ballet dancer presents duets with four leading male choreographers.

Mark Kanny is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at

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