The performance begins without warning: a dancer walks onstage and stares, affectless, while the auditorium continues to bustle. House lights still up, the audience quiets as we notice more dancers entering, each taking long strides on sharp diagonals which seem arbitrary until a crisp formation is revealed.
Aretro disc jockey announces Jackson 5’s“I Want You Back,” and the lights finally drop as the dancers are spurred into motion, still blank-faced as they begin a phrase of robotic gestures in cannon that are somehow both at odds and perfectly suited to the pop classic.
This first number, “Strict Love” by contemporary legend Doug Varone, is the only one on the bill for Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M) not choreographed by the company’s founder and director Kyle Abraham. A recipient of some of the highest honors an artist can receive, including a Princess Grace Award for Chorography and a MacArthur Fellowship, Abraham has made waves in the modern dance world with his seamless blend of contemporary vocabulary with hip-hop and pedestrian movements, creating works that are both technically stunning and resoundingly human.
No piece in the program better exemplifies this quality than the excerpt from “Dearest Home.” Performed in silence by Tamisha Guy and Jeremy “Jae” Neal, the work showed the full lifespan of a relationship in what felt like a moment. Though physical contact was sparse, the connection between the dancers was palpable as they communicated through glances and familiar gestures abstracted.
From reservation to vulnerability, and playfulness that dissolves into sensuality and anger, the intent of each movement is clear. While both showed incredible depth and artistry, Guy’s impeccable technique, clear lines and effortless delivery left the auditorium breathless.
“The Quite Dance” seems to start along the same path with a lone dancer — Catherine Ellis Kirk — in silence, but she is soon joined by two couples and a sweeping Bernstein score. Throughout the work Kirk oscillates between being apart from, and a part of, the quartet, all similarly dressed and bathed in warm orange light downstage while she echoes their movements more sentimentally upstage in a pool of blue. The second movement brings more interaction but by the close we see Kirk alone again, slowly hinging into a deep backbend as the curtain drops.
The final work of the program is “Drive,” a strong, pulsating feat of athleticism that offers a lively contrast to the first act. The heavy bass reverberates through the auditorium, and a hazy fog matched with the expertly crafted lighting design by Dan Scully creates a club-like atmosphere. The persistent beat and constant motion have a hypnotizing effect: it’s impossible to tear your eyes away for fear of missing a spectacular inversion, gravity defying leap or dizzying turn.
Perhaps most interesting is the smooth blend of sharp hip-hop isolations and grounded modern undulations in the second movement — an Abraham signature unmatched by any other creator today, and a glimpse at a more interdisciplinary future for modern dance in America.
Reviewer Lily Watkins is a dancer and dance instructor in Charleston.