Listen to the Music that Gets Kyle Abraham Hype to Choreograph

Choreographer Kyle Abraham makes captivating, dynamic dances. But did you know that he makes just as many captivating, dynamic playlists?

Abraham creates a custom playlist for every piece he makes. They don't include songs that are actually in the piece; rather ones that capture the atmosphere or energy of it. His 2011 work Live! The Realest MC returns to New York this weekend, and in honor of the occasion, Abraham made us an updated version of his original playlist for the work.

We talked to Abraham about his prolific playlist-making, and where he finds all those deep cuts that find their way into his work:


On Making Playlists

"There's songs that the dancers may dig, as well as songs to get me in the headspace of the work. I tend to listen to them for several months before I even share them with the dancers. In some cases they are gifts for the dancers. It's to honor the process when I'm creating."

Why He Loves "Get Huh"

"My friends and I used to play this during high school on our way to the club. Most of my friends during high school were this group of queer kids that were going to a local college. It was before I was out to most, but I was out to those close to me."

Where He Finds New Music

"I love going to record stores. I go to Amoeba Records in L.A. and see what the people in the shop recommend. I also like to see who has collaborated with who in the past. That's something I miss without having CDs. I used to look at the booklet to see who produced the song, who did the backing vocals.

"When I'm on tour in Europe I'll be shopping or at a club and some song I've never heard comes on and I'll use Shazam.

"I just start diving into research and trying to find whatever I can. It can be a fun distraction from grant writing or grading papers."

On His Taste in Music

"I love music of all different genres. I love the new Brandi Carlile album. My range can go from Morrissey, The Smiths, D'Angelo, Alessia Cara, Mariah Carey, Sinéad O'Connor and always back to Prince."

On Aly-Us' Follow Me

"Follow Me is one of the best records of all time. It makes me feel so hype. I feel like someone is speaking to me with that record. This song has always been on the Live playlist. It's this space to work towards something better, something filled with hope."

On the Music in Live! The Realest MC

"The music is really vital to the show. It has a lot of dark industrial tones. It's about this idea of going unnoticed or being accepted, you're blending in and being a bit of a robot. I also wanted that industrial sound to represent growing up in a city like Pittsburgh."

What He Did to Go to a Deee-Lite Concert

"Deee-Lite was always my favorite growing up. My mother actually helped get me a fake ID so I could go see them when I was 17. I have a very special place in my heart for their music."

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Luke Isley, Courtesy Ballet West

How Do Choreographers Bring Something Fresh to Music We've Heard Over and Over?

In 2007, Oregon Ballet Theatre asked Nicolo Fonte to choreograph a ballet to Maurice Ravel's Boléro. "I said, 'No way. I'm not going near it,' " recalls Fonte. "I don't want to compete with the Béjart version, ice skaters or the movie 10. No, no, no!"

But Fonte's husband encouraged him to "just listen and get a visceral reaction." He did. And Bolero turned into one of Fonte's most requested and successful ballets.

Not all dance renditions of similar warhorse scores have worked out so well. Yet the irresistible siren song of pieces like Stravinsky's The Firebird and The Rite of Spring, as well as the perennial Carmina Burana by Carl Orff, seem too magnetic for choreographers to ignore.

And there are reasons for their popularity. Some were commissioned specifically for dance: Rite and Firebird for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes; Boléro for dance diva Ida Rubinstein's post–Ballets Russes troupe. Hypnotic rhythms (Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) and danceable melodies (Bizet's Carmen) make a case for physical eye candy. Audience familiarity can also help box office receipts. Still, many choreographers have been sabotaged by the formidable nature and Muzak-y overuse of these iconic compositions.

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