Abraham is learning the hard way what it’s like to lead a dance company, which is making its Washington debut this weekend. There is no easy way.
He approaches his work — in this case creating a new evening-length piece — with the seriousness of a veteran artist, but a relaxed ease that’s rare in the self-serious world of modern dance. So today, even though his paid understudy has gone AWOL, Abraham will press on. He’ll just dance the no-show’s parts himself.
At a boyish 34, Abraham can still do that. But he’s getting to the point where he’d rather not, calling himself an “old man” in front of his 20-something dancers. It’s not as much about physical durability as it is about multitasking. Today’s agenda at the Joyce Soho, a venerated (if rundown) dance rehearsal space, calls for Abraham to review 60 minutes of material, teach his dancers a new section, host a guest reporter, and sit down with the Joyce Foundation video crew to film his work for an education video.
“Where’s my hat?” he says, rummaging through his dance bag. “I was going to wear my hat today.”
Like Mark Morris and his scarf, or Peter Martins with his geeky IT glasses, Abraham knows he’s going to need an accessory to make it through this busy day of artistic directing. He pulls a plaid newsboy cap from a bag of notebooks, scarves and toe separators, and secures it on his head.
“There,” he says. “Now we can get started.”
Abraham is at work on his third evening-length piece, tentatively called “Pavement.” The dance is inspired by the 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood,” but set to baroque music, including Vivaldi arias and Bach’s violin partitas. He’s interested in juxtapositions, and “The Radio Show,” a 2010 work his company will be performing next weekend at Dance Place, is no exception. The piece loosely traces two narratives: the demise of two African American radio stations in Abraham’s home town of Pittsburgh, and his father’s descent into dementia. The soundscape is a mix of radio call-in shows, original house music and popular nostalgic tunes by singers such as Aretha Franklin.
The movement is equally bifurcated, indebted to hip-hop in the looseness of the shoulders and the casual jumps, but delivered with balletic precision. One of his signature moves, for example, is a little sideways jumps he calls the Jigga-Basque. (“A little Jay Z reference.”) The movement is playful in places, but luscious overall, as if with each arm gesture the dancers are parting a substance that’s thicker than air.