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Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, NYC
February 25–27, 2010
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Amber Lee Parker and Rachelle Rafailedes in The Radio Show. Photo by Renee Rosensteel, Courtesy Danspace Project.
At The Radio Show, the audience walks in and finds performers from Abraham.In.Motion already in motion. Like the black urban talk and music airwaves that inspire this work, Abraham's dancers seem to be sizzling lines of energy—always on, surviving somewhere, in actuality, or at least in deep, visceral memory. This foretaste eased Danspace Project's opening-night crowd into an event—the troupe's first full New York evening—that would further boost this "emerging" artist's credibility. Now he has surely arrived, and with an unforgettable team.
A heady array of sounds spill forth: numinous static; talk show call-ins; collaged, sometimes jarring snippets of well-known tunes; whole songs from R&B, gospel, hip hop; Aretha Franklin elevating "Mary, Don't You Weep" or the white singer Antony Hegarty tempering Beyoncé's brassy "Crazy in Love," turning it into a tender, gossamer aria. It's a generous feast, arranged by Abraham with original music by one of his dancers, Amber Lee Parker.
Abraham sets performance against these American sounds—sourced in black culture and arguably our nation's most influential export—while paying tribute to black radio as an endangered voice, the connective force of an equally endangered community. In notes and interviews, he also cites as inspiration his father's Alzheimer's disease and aphasia, observing that, while his verbal communication has diminished, his urge to dance remains vibrant.
Designer Sarah Cubbage's costumes marry the ordinary to the extraordinary: As a dancer turns away from the audience, the cutouts on his or her dull-looking brown shirt reveal a gorgeous, sinewy back. The music pumps, and one never forgets that dancers are "just folks" and vice versa. You feel this duality within yourself, too, as the music pulls at you but seems also to be rising from within you.
How roomy and various is Abraham's way with dance—elastic and electric, luxuriantly rippling, poetically arranged with moments of perfect stillness that arrive amid splashes of expression. His choreography wriggles energy through the body, stretches it, suspends it, unleashes it. Control alternates with abandon, infirmity with unbeatable vigor, abstraction with pinpoint-fine character drawing. He's always been a unique performer, and dancers who join him in this demanding work—particularly Raja Feather Kelly, Jeremy Nedd, Rachelle Rafailedes, and the robust Parker—are blessed with individualized roles crafted with a lapidarist's intense focus. His challenges make good dancers look even better.
Dan Scully's lighting design makes everything look good and, while his row of bright stage lights aligned at the rear of the space is a grand, theatrical touch, I most enjoyed his more subtle delineation of areas for dancing, his play of soft light and available shadow (cast by the church's columns).
The Radio Show finds Abraham working with an expansive palette. But—unlike some dance productions with big ideas, big budgets, lots of moving parts—its ambitions seem heart-centered, human-sized, and fulfilled. In 2009, this magazine declared him one of the "25 to Watch." New York will continue watching. We have so much more to learn.
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