Tag: Kyle Abraham

Three African-Americans Earn MacArthur Fellowships in 2013

Three African-American fellows have been named to this year's MacArthur Fellows. Pictured from left-right are Kyle Abraham, Tarell McCraney and Carrie Mae Weems. (Photos courtesy of The MacArthur Foundation)
Three African-American fellows have been named to this year’s MacArthur Fellows. Pictured from left-right are Kyle Abraham, Tarell McCraney and Carrie Mae Weems. (Photos courtesy of The MacArthur Foundation)

Twenty-four talented individuals were recognized Wednesday morning after they were named the 2013 class of MacArthur fellows – an honor given to an extraordinary group made up of individuals who have achieved much success in their personal creative pursuits.  This year, three African-Americans — Kyle Abraham, Tarell McCraney and Carrie Mae Weems – have been identified by the MacArthur Foundation and join the group of fellows who are each awarded $625,000 to use as they wish towards their creative visions.

“This year’s class of MacArthur Fellows is an extraordinary group of individuals who collectively reflect the breadth and depth of American creativity,” said Cecilia Conrad, Vice President, MacArthur Fellows Program.  “They are artists, social innovators, scientists, and humanists who are working to improve the human condition and to preserve and sustain our natural and cultural heritage. Their stories should inspire each of us to consider our own potential to contribute our talents for the betterment of humankind.”

In particular, the work of these three visonaries attempts to teach lessons and transform the ideas associated with the African-American experience.  Abraham is a New-York-based dancer and choreographer whose work is often inspired by some of his childhood memories growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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Marc Bamuthi Joseph and Kyle Abraham Hip-Hop Performance Pieces Captivate at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “Word Becomes Flesh” was performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. (Photo: Ruby Washington/The New York Times)

In a split bill at Damrosch Park Bandshell in New York City, Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s “Word Becomes Flesh” and Kyle Abraham’s “Pavement” explored race, power and, most specifically, what it means to be a black man in contemporary society as part of the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series last Thursday night. Using spoken word, movement and music, Mr. Joseph takes on the issues confronting black fatherhood in “Word Becomes Flesh,” which program notes describe as a “choreopoem.” First performed in 2003 by Mr. Joseph, the work is a recitation of letters written to his unborn son. Now “Word” is reimagined for an ensemble cast of six. The performers share their fears about bringing a child — first addressed as “heartbeat” and later as “brown boy” — into the world.

Spurts of movement — diagonal runs from the wings; slow, exaggerated steps; and springy jumps — often serve to accentuate the wistful text, which magnifies the idea of multiple, insecure fathers-to-be. “You have an intrinsically intimate relationship with your mother,” one dancer says, “but your dad didn’t check out when you were in the womb.”

For all of its words, Mr. Joseph’s loquacious piece lacks poetry. Mr. Abraham’s “Pavement” is more elegiac, yet the thorny sightlines of the Damrosch bandshell did the piece few favors. Mr. Abraham is a beautiful dancer — unpredictable and spry, with the kind of articulation that is likely to become only more refined and subtle with age — but his packed productions are somewhat unconvincing.  “Pavement,” influenced by the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and John Singleton’s 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood,” is set in the historically black neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. It was there, at 14, that Mr. Abraham first watched the Singleton movie; audio clips from the film are included in the production.

Tension is wonderful in a work, and Mr. Abraham’s propensity for moving his dancers in multiple directions — his movement phrases show a body swirling one way and then the next before evading momentum with a backward hop in arabesque — can be exhilarating. But the push and pull between narrative and dancing throughout “Pavement” gives it a choppy, locomotive feel. The film audio is overkill.

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‘Boyz n the Hood’ Reimagined by Interpretive Dancer Kyle Abraham

Kyle Abraham.jpg

The thirty-five-year-old choreographer Kyle Abraham has come a long way in just a few years. In 2006, he established his company, Abraham.In.Motion, and since then has produced dances that have earned him awards and critical acclaim. In December, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre will première a work that it commissioned from him. For someone whose career has taken off in such a big way, though, he retains a strong connection to his Pittsburgh roots, and shows great integrity in his dance-making, both of which were evident in his newest work, “Pavement,” which Abraham presented recently at Harlem Stage.

Abraham, who is African-American, went to high school in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, a historically black neighborhood, and in several of his previous works he drew on his experiences there. For “Pavement,” he went back to 1991, to reimagine the film “Boyz n the Hood,” about gangs in South Central Los Angeles, which was released that summer. He used the film as a springboard for examining life in Pittsburgh’s African-American communities in the Hill District and East Liberty Homewood and reflecting on the state of the black American experience in the two decades since its release.

But Abraham’s conception was even more sweeping. He also wanted to look at the history that had preceded the strife represented in “Boyz n the Hood,” and found a pertinent source in “The Souls of Black Folk,” the 1903 book by W. E. B. Du Bois, whose essays became instrumental in African-Americans’ struggle for equality in the twentieth century. Du Bois’s text made no appearance in “Pavement,” but Abraham included a quote from it in the program, which hovered over the dance: “Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as a natural defense of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the ‘higher’ against the ‘lower’ races.” In the light of Du Bois’s words from more than a century ago, the realities as depicted in the film are sobering. From the perspective of 1991, when the ravages of H.I.V., crack addiction, and gang genocide were entrenched, not much seems to have gone right.

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