Ailey's Chalvar Monteiro on Kyle Abraham's New Work

November 26, 2015

Nothing says wintertime in New York like the start of the Ailey season. It begins at New York City Center next Wednesday, and features a host of exciting revivals and premieres, including one by Kyle Abraham. Chalvar Monteiro, who danced with Kyle Abraham’s Abraham.In.Motion for four years before joining Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater this April, will be performing in the world premiere of Abraham’s new work for the company, Untitled America: First Movement. The piece is the first in a series of three exploring how incarceration damages black families, and is set to a sounds score comprised of Laura Mvula’s “Father, Father.” I caught up with Monteiro to hear about his experience being back in the studio with Abraham:

What can audiences expect from
Untitled America: First Movement

Untitled America: First Movement
is Abraham’s abstract take on families in the prison system, commenting on the black man and his relationship to his family while being isolated from them. Audiences can expect to see a very internal take on that subject. He lets the music do the work for him and gives the dancers the liberty to interpret the movement how they feel.

What’s it like to work with Kyle in this new context?

It feels like home. It’s nice to be able to generate movement again, because Ailey is a repertory company and the rhythm is very different here. It’s nice to be able to show what I bring to the table as far as being a new face in the company. Kyle and I are like brothers, I can just watch him work with other dancers and see the direction he’s going and just follow that momentum.

This is the first in a three part series. What will this first section focus on and what can audiences expect for future sections?

He’s definitely getting to a dark place. The music in this first section is so beautiful. It almost sounds like a love song, until you get to the end and realize that she’s begging her father to let her love him. It gets very sad towards the end. We started to work on things that he’s going to formulate for the spring. It’s darker, the music is a little more industrial, a lot less orchestral. The movement is more visceral, and more pedestrian. A lot more floorwork. It’s a slow simmer right now. It seems like he’s adding more people. Kyle’s a secret keeper. He never tells you what he’s really going to do or what he’s thinking until he’s made it. You don’t even realize that it’s happened. He keeps it to himself and you just go for the ride.

AAADT in Kyle Abraham’s Another Night. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT.

This topic is incredibly relevant right now.

We’re at a place of unrest in America right now and I think we really have to start addressing the unfairness. We have to start thinking about the statistic that black men are the most highly incarcerated people. We see that people are getting arrested and sometimes killed for just the color of their skin. We think we’ve come so far, but we actually haven’t. This sad lullaby that Kyle’s made is so beautiful. Without any kind of anger, it’s just having an honest conversation about race in America in 2015. That’s the beautiful part about this company. To have an institution of this magnitude that celebrates culture, especially black culture—what it is to be black right now in the world. It’s super important to take away the veil and talk about the things that aren’t so pretty about the place we call home.

What is the biggest challenge of this piece?

Approaching the choreography with your full authenticity. Without doing what you think it is or what you think you’re supposed to do, just being who you are. Not trying to impose any of those outside pressures to be something that you’re not, which makes your performance less than what you’re capable of. Because Ailey has such a legacy, it’s easy to think that you have to look a certain way or have to do certain things, but they’re just asking you to be yourself. Never questioning your choices and going with the flow, that’s what’s hardest for me.

What else are you most excited about for this season?

My other favorite premiere is Ronald K. Brown’s Open Door to Afro-Cuban jazz music and commenting on the open door of fellowship and cultural exchange from Africa to Cuba. It’s super fun and upbeat. It’s gonna be an audience favorite.

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