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This is the 12th season for the Laguna Dance Festival and is taking place at the Laguna Playhouse.  Featured companies include New York City based Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, Los Angeles’ BODYTRAFFIC and BalletX, based in Philadelphia. The festival opened on September 1st with Sculpted Motion at the Laguna Art Museum and a master ballet class on September 11th taught by Jodie Gates, the Founder and Director of the Laguna Dance festival. Gates performed with several major ballet companies and is currently the Director and Vice Dean at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion - Photo by Steven Schreiber
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion – Photo by Steven Schreiber

Set in a basketball court with hoop and a chain link fence, Abraham’s PAVEMENT is an hour long work that shines light onto life in our inner cities. This work held a special poignancy because of the recent events in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma where two more black men were shot and killed by the police. Perhaps it was because of that I felt that there was a level of intensity or anger missing in PAVEMENT.

Abraham creates conversations between characters in PAVEMENT with his movement as well as with scripted speech onstage. In the opening scene, Abraham is confronted by a white man (Matthew Baker) and placed face down on the pavement with his hands cuffed behind his back. This action takes place throughout the dance, showing black men being placed on the ground without displaying any resistance; demonstrating how often this takes place. One powerful scene occurs in flashing red lights of a patrol car where we hear the pleas of “Help me!” by a man who is being totally ignored by those around him. It echoes the constant calls for justice that so often go unheeded.

Abraham.In.Motion in PAVEMENT - Photo by Steven Schreiber
Abraham.In.Motion in PAVEMENT – Photo by Steven Schreiber

The final scene in PAVEMENT is truly powerful. For a long time, we see the cast with their hands behind their backs piled on top of one another. This passage of time points out how long the struggle of people of color, and poor inner city whites, have been persecuted without hope of change. Abraham, in a very simple way, forced his audience to acknowledge and feel uncomfortable about how long people have been suffering.

Abraham knows how to stage truly powerful social scenes. Abraham also knows how to create beautiful and complex movement phrases. I felt, however, that the anger, the struggle or the hopelessness did not always travel along within the bodies of the dancers. Dramatic situations were suddenly dropped to allow the dancers to perform his exquisite, lush and loose-limb phrases. Sadly, these phrases did not always relate emotionally to what happened before and/or after.  This reviewer wanted to see Abraham own his political and social statements without dressing them up or sugar coating them for easier consumption.

Maleek Washington, Matthew Baker, Chalvar Monteiro, Rena Butler in PAVEMENT - Photo by Steven Shreiber
Maleek Washington, Matthew Baker, Chalvar Monteiro, Rena Butler in PAVEMENT – Photo by Steven Shreiber

The members of Abraham.In.Motion include Kyle Abraham, Matthew Baker, Vinson Fraley Jr., Tamisha Guy, Thomas House, Jeremy “Jae” Neal and Kevin Ricardo Tate, who are some of the best in the business. They also demonstrate excellent acting skills as they shift in and out of Abraham’s movement phrases with amazing ease.

Abraham had his “artistic upbringing in classical cello, piano and the visual arts”. In PAVEMENT he weaves the music of a variety of composers, both classical and popular, in and around the voices of inner city life. He does this with the excellent work by Sound Editor Sam Crawford.  The set and lighting design by Dan Scully is powerful through its iconic simplicity. We all have seen this basketball court.

The Laguna Dance Festival continues through September 25th. Visit their website for information and tickets.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

1 COMMENT

  1. You seem to believe that “Pavement” creates a single story line that can be easily interpreted and explained as a particular viewpoint or narrative. If you stayed for the post-performance discussion on Thursday, you heard Mr. Abraham’s reluctance to place any pat answers on what was happening onstage. I am disappointed that you felt the need to explain what he meant – or what you thought he meant – by some of the passages. Art is meant to provoke thought, invite interpretations, ask questions of the viewer, not simply tell a linear, one-dimensional story that a reviewer simply passes along to a reader. There was no lack of heat and anger in Pavement, to my mind. It is a piece created four years ago that still holds great relevance to events today. We were lucky to see it in this final U.S. performance before it is retired.

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