Very few choreographers can move so adeptly between the elevated and the colloquial in a single phrase, from a pirouette to a fist bump with utter authenticity. But Kyle Abraham can. The New York-based choreographer’s linguistic versatility – absorbing elements of classical, contemporary, street and social dance – is matched by the thematic variety of his decade-or-so’s output, from exquisite collaborations with ballet companies (most recently the Royal Ballet’s The Weathering) to impactful dances of social commentary and activism with his own company A.I.M.
Now this piece, Requiem, is something else again, although it’s hard to say what. It’s a leap into Afrofuturism, soundtracked by a version of Mozart’s Requiem renovated by electronic composer Jlin into sampled strings and reverberant bass. Ten dancers are dressed in silky, swishy tunics and skirts by Giles Deacon. At points their behaviour suggests courtly manners, or the games of mythical gods, amusing themselves with rituals of combat and performance. A neon circle lights up on the back wall, inside it a film showing ink swirling through water. Circles are everywhere in the choreography – gently swooping and spinning – and also in one of the ideas behind the piece: reincarnation and life’s circularity. Bodies occasionally shake and fall to the floor, but they are revived and return to dance, regenerated. It’s a deliberate counterpoint to Abrahams’ previous works that have dealt with violence against Black bodies; this is a picture of life and hope and possibility.
The hour-long piece feels rather formless, though, with subtle shifts in tone between musical chapters. It’s meandering sometimes, but there’s enigmatic intrigue. The choreography often lives in a middle ground between earth and air, neither sending its energy deep into the ground nor stretching or leaping skyward: it sweeps and swoons with soft joints.
There are strong solos from individual dancers: Dymon Samara has particular presence, Logan Fernandez throws off some breaking moves, there’s Jae Neal’s lithe muscle and purpose, and a queenly Tamisha Guy, drawing the eye with mesmeric smoothness. Requiem gives impressions of community, connection, play, humour and flirtation – all facets of a rich life – but it is an exploratory piece rather than a triumphant one.
A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham is at Sadler’s Wells, London, until 1 June.