Abraham.In.Motion Dazzles With When the Wolves Came In

unnamed This past weekend, choreographer Kyle Abraham brought his work back to Chicago with Abraham.In.Motion's stunning When the Wolves Came In at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Abraham’s work was inspired in part by a trip to the Hector Pieterson Museum in South Africa. Pieterson died during an anti-Apartheid protest when police shot him. The dominant theme throughout the show is freedom and civil rights, both through the lens of historic events like Apartheid and recent police brutality in America. It similarly pulls inspiration from Max Roach’s We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Suite released in 1960 following the sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. When the Wolves Came In questions perceived freedom and equality, examining how far we’ve actually come. The first thing I noticed in the opening piece, also titled When the Wolves Came In, was the complete control and the strength of the dancers. A male and female dancer move together on the stage, intertwined and engrossing. The extreme control the dancers possess in their movement is in stark contrast to the undertones of the piece—not having control on your freedom. The dancers play with holding power and control over each other, directing movement and holding each other down. A second pair takes over the stage, picking up the pace and seeming more carefree. The new pair moves unrestrained. They don’t seem to notice—or care about—the struggle around them. Certain motifs develop in this first piece and continued throughout the show: attitudes, piques, small undulations and long lines through the arms and legs. There is a nod to classical movement, a certain structure that pervades. Abraham’s choreography engages the legs as counterweights, pulling around the body, bringing fluidity and strength to the dance. The movement is crisp, clean and accessible. The emotion infused into the piece makes it dynamic and magnetic. During the second piece of the show, Hallowed, the lights are lowered and the mood is changed. A single man, Jeremy “Jae” Neal, stands alone. He progresses through subtle, exacting movements, slowly and intensely. His solo was my favorite part of the evening. Two women, Tamisha Guy and Catherine Ellis Kirk, join Neal. The dancers show incredible presence and awareness of their bodies. There is purpose behind each subtle shift of weight, each flick of an arm, each swing of the hips. The show’s last piece, The Gettin’ begins with a renewed energy right away, featuring an interpretation of the Max Roach music that inspired the dance. There is a seriousness cast over this section, although the upbeat music and quicker, more acrobatic paced movement may have you think otherwise. Race and politics are central to this section. The dancers perform in front of a backdrop of signs denoting white and non-white areas intermixed with videos, including the arrest of Eric Garner in New York. Images and videos like this—ones showing humanity at its worst—are difficult to watch and even more difficult to understand. Abraham’s choreography doesn’t attempt to make sense of it, but does act as a beautifully crafted interpretation of struggle, belonging, and the powerlessness that far too frequently accompanies the fight for equality. Familiar movements from the first sections reappear, although this piece more freely mixes styles as two men stand facing each other on opposite sides of the stage, Neal and Matthew Baker. They dance together but apart, watching each other. They are supportive but suspicious, and briefly dance in partnership before breaking away. Baker leaves the stage, leaving Neal alone. While additional dancers move on and off the stage, a pervading sense of unease remains, until at last, just one dancer is left on the stage. She moves gently and athletically at once, her movement a seeming proclamation of freedom.    
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Miriam Finder Annenberg