Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Watching Connie Shiau dance feels uncannily similar to watching a cat attack its prey. She'll stealthily draw out a movement, building suspension, then charge into the next phrase so fast that you never even see how she got from point A to B.
But this Abraham.In.Motion dancer offers much more than just playful musicality. Although she's only 28, Shiau delivers the kind of complex performances that artists typically only develop through years of digging deep inside their souls. With her intense inner focus, you feel her making choices right in the moment onstage, and you can't help but be mesmerized, wondering what she might decide to do, where she might decide to go next.
It's the end of a long rehearsal day for the dancers of Abraham.In.Motion. They're reviewing phrases of a new work, Dearest Home. It's a pretty typical rehearsal scene. Some dancers cluster around a laptop trying to piece together steps learned long ago. Others review choreography together, working to figure out who remembered which arms correctly.
What isn't typical: The company's director and choreographer, Kyle Abraham, is nowhere to be seen.
That's because while the company is based in New York City full-time, Abraham spends most of his year teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he joined the faculty last September. It's an unconventional model for a single-choreographer–led troupe, almost functioning like a repertory company in which choreographers drop in for a week to set a piece, leaving it up to the rehearsal directors and dancers to keep the momentum going.
From dancers to presenters to directors, no one in dance is exempt from the task of building an audience. But keeping up with email, social media and other marketing efforts can chip away at precious time spent honing your craft. Add in the fear of coming across as vain or self-absorbed, and it can be hard to know how to begin.
For artists working outside of cities with well-established arts scenes, the lack of a creative community can be disheartening. To combat that, Knoxville, Tennessee–based dancer-choreographer Harper Addison founded The Iteration Project, an online platform through which artists from anywhere in the world can connect, experiment and converse. The structure is simple: Every Monday, TIP sends a prompt via email and invites dancers, musicians and writers to share their responses on social media via #theiterationproject. The prompts are usually simple words or phrases—"15 Ways to Say Hello," "Walking" and "Hungry, Alone and Together" are a few. The project also hosts TIP Jams, inviting artists to meet in person to explore the most recent prompt together and forge stronger local arts communities. Get in on the action at theiterationproject.org.
Abraham.In.Motion will make their Kennedy Center debut with Kyle Abraham's The Gettin'. Photo by Ian Douglas, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.
Ballet Across America returns to The Kennedy Center this week with a twist: programming curated by American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland and New York City Ballet soloist/resident choreographer Justin Peck. It's a unique opportunity to get inside the heads of two of the most influential figures in American ballet today—so what companies and choreographers did the superstars choose to showcase?
It's not uncommon to hear dancers planning for their "second act": what they will do after their performance career ends. Wrapped into this term is an assumption that the skills a dancer has developed are valueless in other work environments.
But as the rest of the world panics to create a workforce that will withstand automation and artificial intelligence, dancers may actually be prepared with just the skills our future economy needs.
The mechanics of arts administration have historically stayed outside the studio, with dancers responsible for doing the dancing, and little else. “There was a massive separation between 'church and state,' so to speak," says Uri Sands, choreographer and co-artistic director at TU Dance in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
But today, small dance companies seem less likely to lean on traditional nonprofit staffers and instead offer dancers secondary administrative roles. This creates opportunities for professional development, while giving dancers a greater sense of ownership in the company and full-time salaries as an incentive to stick around. Plus, companies get to keep the payroll small, and spend less time scheduling rehearsals around the dancers' third-party employers.
But are there hidden costs in turning dancers—some with little or no experience behind a desk—into staff members? “To some degree," says Sands. “With this generation, I think to straddle those worlds is much easier. Keyboard skills, for example: In 1980, that was something that needed to be taught, but, today, even 6-year-olds have them. Certain things we just don't have to supplement, training-wise."