MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham Opens Up a Dialogue Through Dance (Nov. 15-16)

CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 talks to DanceLink Fellow Stellar Levy ’15 about Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion. Tickets for all three performances by the company this weekend are sold out.

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion "Pavement." Photo by Steven Schreiber.
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion “Pavement.” Photo by Steven Schreiber.

With a basketball hoop in the background and beat-up sneakers on their feet, seven dancers take the stage this weekend in the Patricelli ’92 Theater for the Connecticut premiere of Pavement, an evening length performance by dance ensemble Abraham.In.Motion.  One of these dancers, Kyle Abraham, is the founder and artistic director of Abraham.In.Motion and a 2013 MacArthur Fellow.

Cecilia A. Conrad, Vice President of the MacArthur Fellows Program, said of this year’s Fellows: “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.”  As an artist concerned with issues of identity and history, both personal and shared, Mr. Abraham certainly fits this description.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1977, Mr. Abraham’s artistic upbringing reflects a diverse range of influences, from classical music to hip hop.  He draws from these influences to create dynamic and deeply personal choreographic works such as Pavement.

Informed by John Singleton’s film “Boyz N The Hood” and the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, Pavement takes place in Pittsburgh’s historically black neighborhoods, Homewood and the Hill District.

On one hand, the history of these neighborhoods is one of culturally rich moments — Ella Fitzgerald’s performance in one local theater, Duke Ellington’s in another.  On the other, it is about desolate realities, many of which persist today — extreme poverty, gang violence, and drug abuse.  Pavement is an attempt to narrate this past, giving voice to an urban culture faced with a history of discrimination and conflict.

I spoke with DanceLink Fellow Stellar Levy ’15, who worked closely with Mr. Abraham and the members of Abraham.In.Motion as an intern this past summer in New York City where the company is based.

“I think what’s setting him apart right now is his ability to combine dance vocabulary and something that relates to people who don’t necessarily have that vocabulary,” says Ms. Levy.

There’s something approachable, maybe even familiar, about Pavement.  The dancers wear everyday clothes and sneakers and perform with a basketball hoop as their backdrop.  Even the movement plays with this familiarity, much of it derived from interactions that happen on the street and other everyday encounters.  In this way, the stage is transformed into an urban sidewalk, a literal pavement.

Through her internship, Ms. Levy had the opportunity this past summer to see Pavement performed on three different occasions (and countless other times in rehearsals).  While working at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors performance in New York City and the Huntington Arts Festival in Huntington, Ms. Levy was approached by enthusiastic audience members who wanted to express their thoughts, feelings, questions, and excitement about the piece.

“It’s definitely a way for people to start thinking, whether or not they understand the piece or think that they do,” Ms. Levy says.  “It opens up dance as a way to communicate. It says, ‘This is a conversation we’re having.’”

And it’s an important conversation, one that asks challenging questions about what it means to grow up in an underserved neighborhood, about gang violence, drugs, and discrimination, about equality and seeking freedom, about sexuality and human relationships, about how we tell history and how we make it, how we identify ourselves and how we are identified, questions about being an individual and a member of society, and perhaps more than anything, questions about the importance of community.

“There is a sense of the whole,” Ms. Levy says.  “You leave feeling like part of things, or at least like part of something.”

Click here to watch a video of Kyle Abraham and company member Matthew Baker discussing Pavement on YouTube. Interviews conducted by Stellar Levy.

Center for the Arts Stories: David Shimomura ’13

David Shimomura '13. Photo by Joe Coombes.
David Shimomura ’13. Photo by Joe Coombes.

Center for the Arts Story: I rarely was an actual student in the Center for the Arts. I didn’t take any art, dance, or music classes during my time at Wesleyan. However, that didn’t mean that those things weren’t important to me. I wanted to be involved in the arts at Wesleyan and so I made my way to the CFA job fair. It was something of a joke last year but in the four years I was at Wesleyan I spent nine days not under the employ of the CFA, and five of those days were freshman orientation. My time at the CFA was stressful, hectic, and demanding but the entire time it was a labor of love and it’s opened my eyes to completely different things. I remember my first Navaratri Festival vividly as well as my first Gamelan concert.

Specifically, I think my most striking CFA memory was having my mom and grandfather here before he passed late last year. My going to college was very special to him and I wanted him to see me at Wesleyan. During that visit we saw Jay Hoggard‘s jazz orchestra, a Gamelan, performance, as well as a Korean drumming performance. I remember it rained quite a bit that weekend but we didn’t let any of that keep us down. When I thought to myself that this might be the only opportunity for my grandfather to see what a place like Wesleyan can offer in terms of diversity and still reflect my own interests my first thought was to the CFA.

A specific show that really sticks out in my mind was Urip Sri Maeny’s last show. It was also the last performance I was managing with the CFA. I spoke to her before the show and aside from doing my normal house manager duties I told her that I was honored to be working her last performance as Artist in Residence. I told her that it was also my last show and we both hugged and teared up a bit. Seeing the rush of people that came in that night really gave me the feeling that I was at something important, not just to the Wesleyan community, but important very deeply in the hearts of the attendees.

Sing with Juice Vocal Ensemble (Nov. 8 & 9)

CFA Arts Administration Intern Chloe Jones ’15 discusses the Juice Vocal Ensemble, who make their Connecticut debut on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 8pm in Crowell Concert Hall. There will be a free sing along with Juice Vocal Ensemble on Friday, November 8, 2013 at 4:15pm in the 
Daltry Room (Music Rehearsal Hall 003)

Juice Vocal Ensemble
Juice Vocal Ensemble

Are you in an a cappella group on campus?  Do you sing in a band or a choir or maybe just in the shower?  Did you dream of growing up to be a rock star?  Maybe you still do.  Whoever you are, if you love to sing, come join Juice Vocal Ensemble this Friday, November 8, 2013 at 4:15pm in the Daltry Room (Music Rehearsal Hall 003), 60 Wyllys Avenue, Middletown
 for a free sing-a-long.

Juice Vocal Ensemble is an experimental a cappella trio out of London. Featuring sopranos Anna Snow and Sarah Dacey, and alto Kerry Andrew, the group mixes contemporary classical with folk, jazz, pop, electronica, and world music.  Their debut album Songspin (2011) won an Independent Music Award for “Best Contemporary Classical Album” in May 2012.

Juice comes to Wesleyan as part of their first U.S. tour since an appearance at the South by Southwest Festival in March 2011.  Following the sing-a-long on Friday afternoon, they will perform in Crowell Concert Hall this Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 8pm.  Their set will include original arrangements of British folk songs and pop music by Guns N’ Roses, Erasure, Mariah Carey, and Flatt and Scruggs; as well as compelling classical works by U.K. composers including Gabriel Prokofiev; six U.S. premieres, including one work written by Anna Snow; and the world premiere of “Ferrara Redux” by New York-based composer and Wesleyan alumnus Toby Twining MA ’06

Additionally, there will be a pre-concert talk at 7:15pm on Saturday by Wesleyan University John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce.

Juice Vocal Ensemble
Connecticut Premiere
Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 8pm
Crowell Concert Hall
$22 general public; $18 senior citizens, Wesleyan faculty/staff/alumni, non-Wesleyan students; $6 Wesleyan students

Center for the Arts Stories: Christopher Riggs MA ’12

Christopher Riggs MA '12. Photo by Eric Gallippo.
Christopher Riggs MA ’12. Photo by Eric Gallippo.

Center for the Arts Story: I’ve met few educators who exhibit unconditional positive regard for the creative urges of students in the way Ronald Kuivila can. By this I don’t mean to imply that working with Ron involves simple coddling. New ideas are cared for in a nurturing way but are also submitted to rigorous scrutiny. Ron seems to get inside your head and observe the past, present, and future of your bizarre, idiosyncratic impulses. Rather than submit to the artistic affinities of my mentor, I felt like I had become more of who I already was after each week’s thesis meeting. The fact that my particular type of artistic process was of no personal interest to Ron did not appear to present him with any kind of pedagogical obstacle. It was almost as if this distance made him even better at his job. I hesitate to make such a statement because it would imply that someone tuned in to Ron’s particular interests (e.g. American Experimentalism, Computer Music, etc.), would not almost certainly benefit from his expertise. I’m confident they would.

Ron’s style of teaching as cultivation of individual growth is rare in an educator and experiencing it from the perspective of a student is an incredible and occasionally therapeutic experience. Wesleyan University is extremely lucky to have Ron Kuivila as a teacher and anyone with an artistic practice, regardless of genre or discipline, would benefit greatly from his teaching.

Favorite Course: Graduate Thesis Tutorial with Ronald Kuivila

Favorite Professor: Ronald Kuivila

Thesis Title: “Sweet Spot of Potential: The Prepared Guitar of Christopher Riggs”