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Kyle Abraham / Abraham.In.Motion

February 13, 2014

The Radio Show

Reviewed February 13, 2014

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

Photograph by Steven Schreiber

Photograph by Steven Schreiber

It’s energetic, it’s alive and it’s intimate. It has unexpected twists and turns, with a splatter of humour and a whole lot of great music.

Up and coming American dancemaker Kyle Abraham’s The Radio Show entranced an Ottawa audience Thursday evening with its unusual and inventive mix of urban and contemporary dance and sounds.

It’s the first time Abraham, who has been wowing the eastern seaboard with his avant-garde aesthetics of late, has brought his creative talent to Ontario, playing at Toronto’s Harbourfront last week and then at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre this week.

The Radio Show, Abraham tells us in the program notes, grew out of his fond memories of listening to his hometown of Pittsburgh’s black radio stations, including WAMO on FM, which went off air suddenly in 2009. The loss of the voice of the black community happened about the same time his father lost his voice to Alzheimer’s, leaving Abraham to look for a common thread.

Rising out of the literal silence, Abraham draws on the energetic and soulful rhythms of Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Shirelles, Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick, through to the modern pop and hip-hop sounds of Britney Spears, Kanye West, Mary Blige and Beyoncé, and more, to fashion a series of vignettes that juxtapose bursts of movement with stop movement or slow motion pauses.

The meaningful connection to sound is blatant as Abraham and his small troupe of six dancers respond in elegiac nostalgia to the call of the radio – songs that stop and start, chatting hosts and radio static.

Abraham himself, dancing for the first time since recovering from a back injury, is intensely lithe, expressive and insistent in motion. Sometimes he moves so fast, his limbs become a blur.

The show’s clever integration of intermittent music and voice with the changes in pace of the dancing, down to the holes cut in the backs of the performers’ tops (designed by Sarah Cubbage), reflects the idea of missing pieces, picking up the pieces, ebbing and flowing and losing one’s place. The bursts of radio static add to the stop-start theme.

The movement itself is a fusion of fluid, loose street dance and rigorous, precise modern steps. Low lighting, backed by a row of spotlights at the back of the stage, designed by Dan Scully, casts a varnished glow over the stage, giving it a retro look. Sometimes, the dancers fall into formation on rectangular shapes of light on the floor, or lock their bodies into frozen sculptures, suggesting secure structure, if only momentary.

Halfway through the work, an odd “pause for station identification” confuses the audience, some of who rise from their seats as if unsure whether or not there is an intermission. It seems a contrived part of a work that emphasizes pauses and gaps and holes – all of which is in stark contrast to the fluid movement of the performers.

The Radio Show is a fairly short work, just over an hour, but it’s packed with rejoicing and poignancy, reflection and memory, and unremitting vivacity from the dancers.


From → Contemporary

  1. Will you allow me to share this on my twitter?

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