This is a powerful debut for Kyle Abraham at Sadler’s Wells. Set in choreographer Kyle Abraham's historically black neighbourhoods, Homewood and the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pavement is inspired by (and includes audio from) 1991's coming of age movie Boyz n The Hood.
Abraham’s work is striking from the onset. His ability to fuse contemporary, jazz and vernacular dance styles speaks to the culture and context of its birthplace. The entire piece plays out in the shadow of a basketball court - the backboard of which is used to project images. The audience enters to a soundtrack of hip-hop which sets the tone.
Aurally the best way to describe what is heard is a soundscape. Abraham has used classic hip-hop joints, excerpts from the movie, opera, the dancers’ voices and the percussive sounds of their feet to score Pavement. Abraham speaks about the juxtaposition of opera against the cultural backdrop of Pittsburgh, and the violence which is mirrored in both and reflected on the stage. The use of the dancers’ voices and dialogue grounds the piece in a particular place, and there is a section where the only sound heard is the feet of the troupe as they run in circles at varying paces across the stage. The culmination of these various details creates a sumptuous soundscape and adds to the ways in which the message is delivered.
Dan Scully’s lighting is a testament to how light will boost a piece if executed properly. From simple washes to the lights of sirens blazing, and everything in between, the lighting was another layer of authenticity that served to deliver a complete sensory experience.
My only criticism is the overall pace. There were moments of poignancy, which were felt, but went on for far too long. Despite this, Abraham makes good use of his dancers as an ensemble as well as in duets, trios and solos, to bring the work to life. His vocabulary of strong lines, complicated lifts and holds are like Pavement’s message - clear.
Most striking of all the elements of Pavement are the imagery and symbolism. The stylized altercations and motifs of black men being placed face down on the floor and their message is unmistakable. Escalating tensions on the court set against the sounds of Boyz n The Hood and the gut-wrenching screams of a dancer begging for help while a siren flares and he is engulfed by the others is a visceral image of the inability to escape. The gestures and repeated motifs acted as points of reference for the injustices faced by the community, with the entire piece clustering around conversations about identity and community. The dance is both an allegory (in its stylized places), and real (where he incorporates vernacular dance) which grounds the piece in a cultural place.
Pavement is a visceral and very considered piece of work. There is thought in the smallest detail, from noting that the lone female dancer is the only one who has no altercations to (halfway through the piece), trainers being strung up on telephone wires. It speaks to the zeitgeist of movements for equality stemming from injustice. For a piece based on a 1991 film, and created in 2012, it remains powerful and relevant. More, please!
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