This summer, dance in the city is, like the weather, hot. Need proof? Check out A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham at Lincoln Center (August 11-13), or innovative choreographer Rennie Harris’ blend of gospel music and hip hop dance at the Joyce Theatre (Aug. 9-14), or the five stellar dance companies, including Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, at the Lincoln Center BAAND Together Dance Festival (Aug. 9-13). The Amsterdam News recently checked in with some of these spectacular troupes to learn what delightful treats they have in store for audiences this month.
Visionary choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham has teamed up with pioneering producer, composer, and electronic dance music artist Jlin to create “Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth,” an Afro-Futurist exploration of death, reincarnation, and the after-life set to an electronic movement transcription of Mozart’s “Requiem in D minor.” For the New York premiere of this commissioned work, A.I.M by Kyle Abraham’s 10 dancers and Jlin’s live performance of his electronic opus create a magnetic piece as Jlin transforms Mozart’s music into an electronic opus that memorializes ritual, mourning, and rebirth.
Speaking to the Amsterdam News from Venice, Italy where “Requiem” was being performed, Abraham talked about his excursion into Afro-Futurism and the fact that for the Black artist creative freedom can be a constant struggle. “As a Black dance maker, I’m always up against it when a white critic or whoever has this notion that Black art always has to speak to our pain.” Giving voice to what some believe is mainstream critics’ tendency to see Black art as only racial documentation and testimony thereby ignoring the innovative and imaginative aspect of their work, Abraham speaks of the need to be free to address a range of issues and express a gamut of emotions. “I’ve addressed a lot of the injustices that we face in, if not every dance, the majority of the dances I’ve made.” He has also focused Black Love, Black Joy, and, yes now Black/Afro-Futurism.
“Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth,” Abraham says, and its relationship to Afro-Futurism allows him to exercise the power of the imagination and acknowledge the Black presence in science fiction. Evoking images of writer Octavia Butler, filmmaker Jordan Peele, and movies such as “Black Panther,” Abraham says, “Yeah, I can tap into a lot of the authors of that art. I can also look at the filmmakers that address it too. I can take inspiration from the fact that I literally grew up reading comic books at a very young age.” Referencing sci-fi subjects currently on trend he adds, “A lot of that information is what I have been interested in playing with for years. But this work, ‘Requiem’ felt like a safe space and a fun space to focus on that.” After all, we who protest also dream and dream big.
Just ask another innovative dance maker, Lorenzo “Rennie” Harris, who takes audiences along for the ride as he explores new territory in the land of hip hop. Known as a leading ambassador of that universally popular dance form, Harris never stops finding new ways to bring its vibrant, mold-shattering beauty to the stage. Having grown up entrenched in the hip-hop culture and immersed in all its forms, he’s bringing an innovation that promises to amaze with this upcoming Joyce Theatre performance of “LIFTED: A Gospel House Musical.” It’s an evening-length seamless fusion of live gospel music, hip-hop dance theater and house dance that tells the story of a young Black man and his path to healing and redemption through the goodness of community and the grace of faith.
Harris says this production comes out of his soul and his lived experience. “It’s a tribute to my Mom who passed away a couple of years ago. When I was growing up, we were very poor and although we were Catholic, on Sunday we would go to the Baptist church service and stay all day because in the Baptist church they give you breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” “LIFTED” also comes out of the world of hip hop, Harris adds, explaining that among its many connotations, the title also refers to the fact that back in the day “when folks were going to dances they’d say they were going to church.” With his raw authenticity, Harris’ work touches audiences whether set in his own company, or modern dance or ballet companies. His honesty speaks volumes and translates across genres, after all, as Harris says, “Hip hop is a universal language. It’s everywhere.”
The Amsterdam News also caught up with another company whose ballet artistry transcends boundaries as it proves, as Artistic Director Virginia Johnson has said, “that this beautiful art form actually belongs to and can be done by anyone.” In a few days, DTH, which is currently on tour, rolls into New York for the Lincoln Center BAAND Together Dance Festival where it will share the spotlight and an outdoor stage with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Festival, Ballet Hispanico, American Ballet Theatre, and New York City Ballet. During the Festival, DTH dancers will perform resident choreographer Robert Garland’s spirited ballet “Return.” Exuding a palpable excitement over the company’s first New York performance since the pandemic and the birth of her daughter Laura, DTH principal Ingrid Silva says, “I think it’s a great gift to New Yorkers to see DTH and the other companies as each one of us brings something different to the table.”
The Brazilian-born Silva stands out in this dynamic company of young dancers whose infectiously energetic enthusiasm and command of the technique dazzles fans and attracts new audiences to their unique embodiment of this classical artform. “By being multi-racial, DTH definitely adds an important layer to the dance world…When we talk about diversity it is so important to realize that when you see yourself in the bodies on stage that is extremely powerful,” says Silva, recalling a key observation of DTH founder Arthur Mitchell. “Being a Brazilian, and an Afro-Latina, it’s really amazing to see how day after day we’re always challenging people to think of diversity in this artform and bringing the unexpected to the table.”
Silva continues, “We’ve become this legacy that inspires other companies to see dancers of color. We bring the power of our diversity to the stage and it’s inspiring. In addition to the dancers who come from everywhere along the African diaspora, our repertory is also very diverse. I think that’s why our dancers are so versatile. We can do everything. Audiences have a lot to look forward to with DTH.”
In fact, audiences have a lot to look forward to—all of the exciting dance taking place this summer.