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.
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.
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.
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.