By Jeffrey Gantz, Globe Correspondent
When MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham brought AIM (“Abraham in Motion”) to the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2014, we got three works inspired by the protest album “We Insist!” by drummer/composer Max Roach in 1960. The three works Abraham and company planned for their return to the ICA this year were less overtly political, more like love stories.
Unfortunately, AIM is unable to perform “Studies on a Farewell” this weekend as it is a company piece and one of the eight dancers has contracted a breakthrough case of Covid-19. That’s a shame; the 26-minute work, which would have taken up the second half of the program, has an intriguing score that includes Nico Muhly’s ‘Four Studies’ and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. The two pieces performed by AIM total barely 45 minutes. “Studies on a Farewell” will be replaced by a conversation between Abraham and Bill T. Jones, Director and ICA Performing Arts Curator John Andress, with a Q&A for the audience to follow.
But it turned out that on Friday, 45 minutes was worth the price of admission. Abraham’s “The Quiet Dance” (2011) is set to jazz great Bill Evans’ arrangement of “Some Other Time,” which Leonard Bernstein wrote for the 1944 musical “On the Town.” Catherine Kirk begins in silence, top left, waving her arms in a way reminiscent of Loie Fuller’s “Serpentine Dance”, but less frantic, with more lower body movement and without the skirt. Tamisha A. Guy, Donovan Reed, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, and Claude “CJ” Johnson eventually gather downstage, and Evans’ sweet keyboarding kicks in. Dancing in unison with Kirk and with each other, they sow, swing baseball bats, put one hand on their hearts and the other on their heads. The gestural movements of the arms suggest ritual, imprecation, oppression.
As the unison breaks down, couples begin to form, some of the same sex, some not; Abraham could direct us to the point in “On the Town” where Claire, Hildy, Ozzie, and Chip sing “Some Other Time” as they wonder what will happen after Ozzie and Chip return to their ship. At the end, Kirk is alone again, ending with a 180 degree turn.
For “Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song” (2021), Abraham chose six love songs by Nina Simone. The costumes of the seven dancers, signed Abraham and Karen Young, could very well be indigo; otherwise, Dan Scully’s dim lighting makes them look that way. With their backs to the audience, they gather at the top of the stage on the left for “Black is the color of my true love’s hair”. For a moment, they are a painting; the next day, it’s an organization in slow motion. They raise their arms to the sky; they crumble, beaten down by life. A dancer is supported by a few others in a fleeting Pietà pose. They never leave the cluster; it is their shelter, their strength.
The remaining five sections of “Our Indigo” are solos or duets, and the choreography, by Abraham in collaboration with AIM, is matched to the song lyrics. Reed is the “keeper of the flame”, but also the flame itself, sashaying, waving, raising an eyebrow at the audience, seeking to draw us in. Dancing to Simone’s version of “Little Girl Blue,” which complements Rodgers and Hart’s vocals In line with “Good King Wenceslas” on the piano, Gianna Theodore stays low to the ground, sliding, leaning back, doing stunts at the floor, counting, as the song says, her little fingers, an “unhappy little blue girl”.
Johnson and Reed perform a melting duet, sticking at first, then drifting apart, as we hear Simone forgive her unfaithful lover in “Don’t Explain.” In “Wild Is the Wind”, Keerati Jinakunwiphat fights the wind and is the wind. His solo is mostly composed of flowing arm movements; her hands court and warn, and she looks at them as if seeing them for the first time, as if they belong to someone else. The closest comes to the “Images” of Simone, whose subject believes that “her brown body has no glory” but would otherwise know “if she could dance naked, under palm trees, and see her image in the river” . Kirk, evoking these palm trees and this river, invests it with endless glory.
AIM by Kyle Abraham
At: Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theatre, Friday, April 15. Remaining performances: April 16-17. Tickets $25-$35, 617-478-3100, www.icaboston.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be contacted at [email protected]