A Pre-show Playlist for Kyle Abraham's Pavement
I didn’t really sit down with Kyle Abraham of Abraham.In.Motion. Rather more apropos, we walked and talked–about his newest work Pavement, opening this Thursday at Harlem Stages–our way through the streets of Chelsea, its delicious market, and the High Line Park. Here are some episodes of our conversation I managed to record along with several tracks from Abraham’s pre-show playlist that are sure to get you back in a 1991 state of mind…
There is no way to get around the N word here. Pavement is an evening length dance work based on John Singleton’s 1991 movie Boyz n the Hood. The word is in specific use in the movie and the show. I awkwardly preface our discussion with my inability to use the word, on the basis of lacking any kind of experience in life that would make me comfortable with wielding such a divisive term. Abraham gets what I am circling and says it often turns his head when he hears kids throwing it around on the train, with a total disregard for the history. He remembers a brief time when the more supportive term of “fam” (short for family) was used in place of it. “But he [Singleton] was going somewhere with it–especially in the scene with the cop. We are playing with text in this show too. I thought about taking out all of the other cuss words, maybe. But it is in there. Except when we did a preview in a church.”
Philippe Jaroussky is the counter tenor providing operatic vocals for some of Pavement‘s scenes. With his angelic voice, Abraham notes, “you might think he is a woman at first listen. I identify with him a bit.”
“I think it is about perspective. My perception of Compton in ’91 is that it was hard to see beyond the reality of the neighborhood, violence, and drugs. Ricky wanted a way out but he also didn’t know if he could pass the test,” Abraham tells me when I ask if he thinks Boyz is about options, or lack of options. “The last section of Pavement is perception based. There are multiple meanings and ways to read the music and the choreography. Are we supporting each other or is it just a body count?”
I ask Abraham about how he deals with expectations and making work as his career continues on an upward trajectory,”I used to work in retail and to get through my shifts I would make short term goals. Folding all the sweaters before someone pulls one out. Alphabetizing records. I still do it. Every morning I write goals for the day. Usually on the train on my way to rehearsal. I reflect on the day before and it keeps me on track in rehearsal.”
We take a pit stop on one of the highly stylized benches along the High Line. Musing on the importance of community, I ask Abraham if he feels he has a community in New York. He pauses as he considers the dance community, in particular. But before he answers, a fellow member of the community has spotted us and come over to express her best wishes for Pavement. As she takes her leave, she says she will see us at the theater. I can’t help but feel community gathers around someone like Abraham, no matter the location.
In addition to Boyz and his various musical inspirations for the show, Abraham also cites the books The Souls of Black Folk, Manchild in the Promised Land, and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration as influential to Pavement‘s process and point of view.
But back to the N word (and other put-downs-turned-greetings in minority communities). I ask Abraham how he feels about using the word. “I don’t really use it–but like Master Teacher, I think it is important. There are basically two camps: those who use it so it will lose its power and those who own it like a battle scar, that camp gives it a coolness.” I offer that derogatory language of all kinds, but especially about women, has often gotten in the way of my own enjoyment of certain popular artists. Abraham laughs. “Sure but there is also smart, conscious rap too. Like The Coup. But who knows them?”
I wonder aloud about how a work based on such a seminal American film and cultural experience will play when he begins touring abroad. “This work is a look at 1991 through a film. It is also a portrait of Pittsburgh and its architecture and culture. What came before it and after it. But it could be anytime, anywhere.”
Harlem Stage Gatehouse
November 1, 2, 3
7:30p-9:30p, 3p (11/3)
Click Here for tix!