It’s not very often that Helena gets a hot new dance performance receiving rave reviews in New York City.
And the Montana premiere and sole Montana show of “Pavement” by dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion arrives at the Myrna Loy Center even before hitting such major cities as Pittsburgh and Washington, D. C. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8.
“Pavement” reimagines John Singleton’s iconic 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood” in high-energy dance.
“I thought about where I was in 1991,” Abraham said of his inspiration for the dance, in a recent IR phone interview. It was a time when HIV, crack cocaine and gang warfare were ravaging black communities.
He was in the ninth grade that year and was rereading W.E.B. Dubois’ classic book “The Souls of Black Folk,” which informs the message of this work.
Instead of the film’s setting in South Central Los Angeles, Abraham moves the action to the historically black neighborhoods of Homewood and the Hill District in his native Pittsburgh.
Like the characters in the movie, Abraham had a close-up and personal look at the gang warfare tearing apart his neighborhood. His high school was in the Bloods neighborhood, he said, while he happened to live in the Crips neighborhood.
“I had to think about what I wore,” he said. His school colors were red and black, which were also the colors worn by the Bloods. This made for some tense moments for Abraham if he happened on some Crips while walking home from school.
“Pavement” looks at blacks’ conflicted history and what’s happened in the 20 years since the film, he said.
“‘Pavement’ … look(s) at the ebbs and flows of the city. ‘Pavement’ was Pittsburgh in the ’90s, all dilapidated buildings. But it has a strong arts scene that was so vibrant in the ’50s, especially for jazz.”
It had been a major stop for jazz legends like Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington who performed in local theaters, and it was home to such renowned musicians as Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn and singer Lena Horne.
In later years, stores closed, storefronts got boarded up and windows were smashed.
“Pavement” looks at community, Abraham added, “and how community is shaped.” There are two ways to see these buildings, either as representative of who you are or as something you can rise above.”
The dance action is on a very simple set, he said. There’s a basketball rim and backboard and a bunch of sneakers. Images are projected on the backboard, and the rest is created with tape.
While the preshow features a mix of current music and hip-hop, “Pavement” is set primarily to classical music.
“I love opera music. I love classical music,” said Abraham, who played piano and cello.
So expect to hear some Bach and Vivaldi and other selections he chooses to keep as surprises.
“To me it’s a contemporary opera,” he said. “It’s very physical.
“Even though there’s a dark context of ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ there definitely are some playful movements.
“It’s my favorite show I’ve ever made,” he said. “I just love this show.
“I like to say it’s post-modern gumbo,” he said, because it incorporates both ballet movements and modern dance techniques.
Reviewers have been enchanted, including The New Yorker’s Andrew Boynton, who described it as “a work of great subtlety and beauty.”
The show opened in Harlem in November 2012, on the ebb of Hurricane Sandy, which was just one more very wild event in what had been for Abraham “a pretty crazy year.”
He won the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2012, as well as receiving a USA Fellowship, which comes with a $50,000 prize.
He was also named the New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist for 2012-2014, which provides him a salary, health care, free studio space and funding to premiere his next work.
“Those three things are pretty insane,” he said.
Add to this, he just completed a commissioned work, “Another Night,” for the acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Abraham’s life as a dancer began at 16, sparked by seeing a Joffrey Ballet performance, “Billboards,” featuring Prince music. “I had never seen any kind of dance,” he said “but I had friends who were involved with dance. One of my friends was studying dance, and I went with her to dance class.”
Soon he was auditioning for the play at his school, Schenley High School.
“It was an awesome school,” he said, which has since been closed. There he took private art classes and cello. His high school also awarded him a scholarship to study dance in the summer.
“I just loved dance, once I went to the first class,” he said. “Once I got the scholarship, I was really hooked.”
Teachers encouraged him to attend the Creative and Performing Arts High School, which he did half days because he didn’t want to leave Schenley.
Teachers also encouraged him to take additional dance classes and even drove him to the classes.
“I had a lot of support behind me,” he said.
He studied dance at SUNY Purchase and earned an MFA at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
“I didn’t think I could be a dancer,” he said, referring to his late start in dance. But from early on, Alexander was drawn to choreography.
Although he is self-deprecating about his dancing, he will be performing in “Pavement” with his company. And Dance Magazine, when it chose him in 2009 as one of 25 to Watch, wrote, “As a performer, he is equal parts power and grace layered on a sinewy frame.”
The 35-year-old Alexander is also a noted teacher and will be leading dance residency workshops at the Myrna.
Tickets are $16 and can be purchased at the Myrna Loy Center,
15 N. Ewing, or online at www.myrnaloycenter.com. For
additional information, call 443-0287.