Kyle Abraham Gets Real at On the Boards

Mixing an explosion of hip hop with the lyrical underpinnings of modern dance, New York choreographer Kyle Abraham brought a mesmerizing show to On the Boards. Through his choreography Abraham breaks stereotypes of what it means to be black and what qualifies as hip-hop dance, while seamlessly incorporating the glimpses of the socially relevant topic of homophobia. Although Abraham tackles numerous complicated issues, Live! The Realest MC uses humor, aggression and skillful dance to blend them into a somewhat enigmatic interpretation of life experience within the black community.

Entering the theatre, the audience was greeted with blasting club music, setting up the expectation of a stereotypical, booty-shaking, music video hip hop. But Abraham is smarter than that. Set to mostly electronic music, the choreography varies between aggressive pop-and-lock hip hop and gracefully lyrical modern dance. At times the choreography contains a simultaneous mix—a dancer sashays across the stage with pointed toes, only to land and explode into a stutter step or hand plant, then sail into a graceful leap. Blurring the lines between classical technique and hip hop pushes the latter away from the typical “gangster” or “clubbin’” stereotype. Abraham and all his dancers are phenomenal, bringing the perfect mix of strength and grace to their performance.

And strength and grace, with their societal gender associations, are a big part of the show. At times male dancers perform with femininity—en pointe with bar feet, drawing out the arms gracefully, swinging the hips and as a counterpoint there are some female dancers who give off toughness—throwing their limbs, bobbing their heads and stomping their feet. Males embrace and nervously hold hands; one female encircles another from behind. Gender roles are highlighted, although the intent is ambiguous, providing hauntingly intimate (and visually interesting) vignettes that lack a coherent thread of story.

Abraham’s choreography was fresh and impressive, but at times was slightly redundant, seeming to repeat itself in various sections. Aside from physical performance, he used video projected onto the back wall of the stage. At times it was a group of black children running through a neighborhood, other times it was a single black boy walking slowly along a sidewalk. Although again ambiguous, the cultural juxtaposition of the walking child and the wild hip hop dancing was striking—it highlighted the innocence of youth and once again challenged racial stereotypes. 

The young choreographer certainly “brought it” to Seattle. With a seriously skilled group of dancers and fresh, energetic choreography, Live! The Realest MC proves a relevant meditation on dance, gender roles and breaking barriers within the black community, but a more conclusive judgment about the presented topics would have made it that much more “real.”

Above Image: Kyle Abraham by Steven Schreiber