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Home > Blog > May 2015 > 10 Questions for 2015 Choreography Fellow Kyle Abraham
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10 Questions for 2015 Choreography Fellow Kyle Abraham

May 6, 2015 by New York City Center
Kyle Abraham Dance

A self-proclaimed “rave kid,” Kyle Abraham didn’t know anything about professional dance when he saw the Joffrey Ballet perform Billboards at age 16. (He’d only shown up because the piece was set to the music of Prince.) But he was hooked. In the years since, Abraham’s daring choreography—influenced by everything from 1970s hip-hop to Pinocchio—has led OUT magazine to call him “the best and brightest creative talent to emerge in New York City in the age of Obama.” The 2015 City Center Choreography Fellow is currently touring with Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature; we caught up with him by email.

CITY CENTER: When did you know you wanted to become a dancer?
KYLE ABRAHAM: I never really wanted to be a dancer. Because I started studying dance at 17, I was much more focused on being a choreographer rather than a dancer. The interest for me has always been about learning more about movement and applying that into dancing around in my room. In more recent days, it’s me dancing in my hotel rooms to Sia.

You didn’t have any formal dance training until senior year of high school. Do you think you look at movement differently than people who’ve trained since childhood?
That’s a tricky one…mostly because fundamentally, we’re all attuned to our own innate rhythmic patterns. But the way in which we’re able to tap into our “truest selves” has to have something to do with our histories. With mine being so closely related to rave culture and club culture, I’ve never been concerned with set steps. So it might be easier for me to approach improvisation…but harder for me to naturally demonstrate a pirouette.

You won a Bessie Award for The Radio Show, an electrifying elegy to WAMO-FM, the urban-format station that you’d grown up with in Pittsburgh. What music are you listening to now?
I’m loving this little EP from Alina Baraz & Galimatias; I love the Lion Babe records. I’m always listening to Prince and D’Angelo. I have the new Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and the new Sia on repeat.

What is it about a song that makes you want to create a dance around it?
I think I’m mostly drawn to the emotion in a song. Second to that is probably the production.

You’ve said, “The weird thing about being a choreographer is that you always feel like you’re hosting a party.” What did you mean?
I guess that’s why I never had more than two people over to my former apartment, lol. When saying that, I was thinking about how important it is that everyone in the room is engaged and comfortable. I think the early rehearsal process in creating Pavement was really thrilling for me. I had a great group of collaborators in the space and everyone respected one another. Nobody wants drama at a party…lol.

You performed Inventing Pookie Jenkins at Fall for Dance in 2007. Can you talk about the impulse that led to that piece, and your memories of performing at City Center?
My good friend Emily Beattie bought my costume for me as a random gift that she thought I might be able to do something with. Around that time, I was listening to a lot of Dizzee Rascal and the lyrics of his song “Respect Me” really spoke to me. They made me think about my high school years and how much people change to try to gain acceptance or respect from their peers. Performing Inventing Pookie Jenkins at Fall for Dance was just insane! Mostly because I’d just found out that I wasn’t selected for Fresh Tracks at DTW and then, like a few hours later, I found out that Fall for Dance wanted me to perform a solo at City Center. I never would’ve dreamed that I could ever have been asked to be on the City Center stage! It was such an insane dream! I just remember my friends telling me that they were there to support me, and were excited for me. For someone like me, there’s nothing that means more.

In 2013, Wendy Whelan asked you to choreograph a duet for her production Restless Creature. What was it like creating a piece on her?
I love working with Wendy! I’ve actually been thinking about what else we could create together. She’s really open to everything in a process. But most importantly, she helps create a space where you can laugh a lot and feel inspired.

Collaboration is important to you—in fact, you’ve even arranged for members of your ensemble to receive lifelong royalties on the work that they helped create. Why don’t more choreographers do that?
I don’t know, actually. I’m sure it has to do in part with the harsh reality that choreographers rarely break even from presenting work. So thinking that there could even be the possibility of a profit might play a big part in putting something like that into play. I really hope more choreographers and companies start doing it. Recently Adam Weinert asked me how I go about applying the royalties—so it’s exciting to think that other choreographers are considering doing this.

What new works are you planning to develop at City Center during your Fellowship?
I’m currently working on a new repertory program with predominantly live music, set to premiere in the fall of 2015. This program includes one new work, Abstract Matter, a duet exploring hip-hop’s fascination with posthumous acclaim. At its heart, the work embraces Oakland-based activist Alicia Garza’s now infamous call to action, #BlackLivesMatter, and the rage and grief associated with its aspirations of change. The work explores hip-hop’s lineage to create an abstracted dialogue about race in America through the lens of those who feel unacknowledged or without value. I’m also in the early stages of creating my next evening-length work for my company Abraham.In.Motion, which is set to premiere in 2017.

Kyle Abraham Studio

If you could create a site-specific work anywhere on earth—no restrictions, no budget limitations—what location would you choose?
I’d try to see if I could get away with choosing two…the first would be my old house in Pittsburgh, because there’s so many memories there. And the second would have to be Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis; the no restrictions part gets me into Prince’s recording studio. ☺

Click here to learn more about the Fellowship. 

Matt Weinstock writes for the publications at New York City Center.