You do you, boo: in Asheville

Sarahart, asheville

Since moving to Asheville, I haven’t seen a lot of dance (or danced a lot for that matter), so I was stoked when I found out was heading this way for the spring season at Diana Wortham Theatre (DWT)., based in New York City, is directed and choreographed by Kyle Abraham, 2013 MacArthur Fellow (aka the “Genius Award”). The mission of his company “is to create an evocative interdisciplinary body of work” []. He wants his work to be something more than just movement and become an investigation into specific concepts and influences.

On the day before the show, a master class was offered free to the community. Of course, I jumped at this opportunity! The master class was taught by’s education assistant and company member Connie. It was a wonderful class focused on improvisation and differing qualities of movement. Together, we explored the different qualities of a marshmallow – from warm and gooey to frozen and sharp. We used that idea in the warm-up and later in the across the floor exercises. This marshmallow imagery sounds a little strange if you aren’t a modern dancer, but I promise, this is completely normal.

The Gettin_Photo Ian Douglas

The Gettin’ // Photo: Ian Douglas

The class was made up of differing levels of experience, but everyone seemed willing to just go for it. I loved seeing the company members demonstrate quick changes between quality during the improvisation and the short choreographed phrase. I wish we could have added more onto the phrase and spent more time on it. I looked for the phrase during the performance, but only saw brief movements from it – mainly the stab/twisted of the arm in the jump. It reminded me of Doug Varone’s movement, which I LOVE. During the pre-show talk Kyle Abraham mentioned his favorite style of dance is improvisation and Doug Varone is one of his idols, so it made sense that his dancers showed those styles in the class.

As I just mentioned, Kyle Abraham participated in a pre-show discussion before each performance at DWT.  He wasn’t performing (although he does perform occasionally based on the programming), so he was able to join some of the audience in a discussion about his work, process and life. I attended with two of my friends and we immediately were drawn to his joyful personality. He authentically answered questions about the intentions behind the work we would see that night and struggles and moments through his life that helped lead him to where he is now. It was exciting to hear how the MacArthur Award was able to change his life by getting him out of debt (hello, Tisch!!). I was also excited to learn that all of his dancers receive health care year-round.

AbrahaminMotion - Photo Tim Barden

The Gettin’ // Photo: Tim Barden

I asked him what was the best advice he ever received and he said the advice that has stuck with him was “you do you, boo“. Coming from a college background in dance, this made a lot of sense, but can certainly be applied beyond dance. He said he struggled with figuring out what he wanted and needed to do after college. While many of his friends wanted to dance professionally in companies, he eventually figured out the right path for him was to choreograph and lead a company. As seen with recent press surrounding Kyle Abraham and his company, he has certainly found his calling!!

When The Wolves Came In_Photo by Ian Douglas

When The Wolves Came In // Photo: Ian Douglas

The performance was very powerful. The works and the quality of movement was captivating. The abstracted story was inspired by “Max Roach’s iconic 1960 protest album “We Insist: Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite”, which celebrated the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation and shed a powerful light on the growing civil rights movements in South Africa and the U.S.” I loved so many parts of the program, but the male dancer who began the third section, “The Gettin” was phenomenal. So. Much. Strength. Also, Connie’s movement quality was captivating. I loved how the simple, specific gestural movement contrasted with the powerful operatic music. The last section was powerful and heavy. I had to exhale before I jumped up to join the standing ovation.

I was so thankful that the company shared so much time with the Asheville community and hope they continue to do well and make their way back to our mountain town during one of their future tours.

Next up, Pilobolus at Diana Wortham Theatre. The performances are almost sold out, but get your tickets online here.