Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
No Static at All
October 20, 2011
Quietly but unquestionably, REDCAT has become Los Angeles’ premiere destination for the best in contemporary dance from around the world over its first few years. The list of exciting new dance works that have graced this space grows longer and longer, and a new entry can be made on that record this weekend. Choreographer Kyle Abraham and his troupe Abraham.In.Motion have brought their 2010 performance The Radio Show to town, and it is packed with ideas and ambitions that thrill and seduce over the course of the evening-length performance. Abraham goes deep for a variety of personal references that may not always be explicit, but are closely intertwined with the story of a community, his own childhood home of Pittsburgh, and its relationship with two influential, principally black radio stations AM 860 and 106.7 FM. The two sets in The Radio Show are named for these stations and the music for the program is a pastiche of pop songs from the last 50 years mixed with pops and static from the airwaves. There is also a good bit of recorded dialog reflecting the type of talk that filled these airwaves on topics related to sexual and cultural politics.
But the show is not about celebrities, fame, or the power of pop music necessarily. Set against this soundtrack are references to personal matters including what Abraham describes on his own site as “an abstract narrative around the loss of communication, [in which] he investigates the effects of the abrupt discontinuation of a radio station on a community and the lingering effects of Alzheimer’s and aphasia on a family.” How this translates onto the stage are movements that can be fluid but are repeatedly stopped suddenly in staccato moments of paralysis for all of the seven dancers including Abraham himself. Abraham vocalizes at times with cries suggestive of someone who has lost their ability to speak. But all of this is lodged right alongside sounds for Beyoncé, Slick Rick, and Antony and the Johnsons. There’s a great visual sense to the program in the earth tone costumes by Sarah Cubbage and highly theatrical lighting by Dan Scully. But the show never takes itself too seriously and its points are made obliquely, often with bits of humor as with the faux radio call-in “make it or break it” program like some high-art Showtime at the Apollo. What’s best about Abraham’s work here is the way in which personal and public history are intertwined in a subtle way that mimics many people’s lived experiences. Mass produced popular music feels like a personal soundtrack here and the distinctions between high and low art fuse unselfconsciously. It’s exactly the kind of show that should excite dance fans and it is no surprise that the performances, which continue Saturday, are exactly where you would expect to find them in Los Angeles, courtesy of CalArts in the basement of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.