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UMS Night School: Curious About Dance – Session 4 Recap

By Hillary Kooistra

Editor’s note: This post is a part of a series of by U-M student and UMS intern Hillary Kooistra, who’s covering our free UMS Night School: Curious About Dance workshop series.

Anything You Do Will Be Perfect

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Welcome back, Night Schoolers! I hope everyone enjoyed their time off! The sun has been shining all week and it was certainly shining in the Alumni Center on Monday night. We were joined by Kyle Abraham, Founder/Artistic Director of Abraham.In.Motion (AIM): the company that will grace the Power Center stage this coming Friday and Saturday. Also with us was Matthew Baker, AIM choreographic associate/dancer, graduate of Western Michigan University, and Ann Arbor native. These two incredible artists invited us into the world of Abraham.In.Motion by demonstrating and talking about the company’s work, as well as allowing us to embody a bit of their choreographic process. Kyle, a MacArthur Award recipient and fascinating thinker/speaker/mover, confirmed an idea we have returned to each Night School session: dance is a thoughtful, collaborative and process-driven art form.

Kyle kicked off our session by showing us video clips of some of his work: Live! The Realest MC, Pavement, and the two works that his company will perform on Friday and Saturday: The Watershed and When the Wolves Came In. As we watched these intersections between stunning movement and innovative stage design, Kyle described the thought, research and collaboration behind the dances. We were then able to make informed, conceptual observations about each work while enjoying some incredible aesthetics. No wonder this man won a genius grant!

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Kyle Abraham talks about his process before showing us clips of some of his dances.

After giving us a chance to see and hear about his dances, Kyle introduced us to the way he works with his company and let us experience his choreographic process with our own bodies. He led us through a few creative activities he uses to establish movement and choreography in collaboration with his dancers. Kyle is not one to simply enter a rehearsal with set material for his company to learn and replicate; his process-driven approach to choreography pays careful attention to the potential contributions of each individual body and mind in the room.

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Kyle explains some of the intentions behind his process to a curious Night School cohort.

With these ideas in mind, we plunged into some AIM-motivated movement invention and exploration. First, we learned and practiced a simple arm gesture phrase (from The Quiet Dance, another work in his company’s repertoire).We executed this upper body sequence as we learned it, while letting our legs do whatever they wanted. We also explored a way to compose our own phrases by responding to “Action Words.” As Kyle (and fellow Night School Student Fred) prompted us to slice, jump, slide, squish, wiggle, and dive, we travelled across the room with our own sequences of movements and rhythms.

 

Night School students experience Kyle’s choreographic process: creating our own leg movements to accompany a set of arm gestures and travelling across the room in response to Action Words.

Kyle explained that the movement he and his dancers generate out of such tasks often becomes the starting point for phrases in his repertory works. In a third exercise dubbed “Catch What You Can,” he and Matthew demonstrated how one seed idea can blossom into a longer, lasting sequence. Kyle grooved to some music while Matthew followed behind him, trying to grasp as much movement as he could. Then Kyle instructed Matthew with prompts such as “left arm and leg chug back,” and “figure eight to the right,” as well as names of moves that seemed to have a significance within the company, such as “Classic.” Regardless of the prompt’s origin, Matthew remained on the same page as Kyle the entire time, and breezed about the floor as he constructed his phrase. The result was amazing. From Kyle’s few moments of visual and verbal cues, Matthew danced an entire phrase of movement without stopping to think once: leaving us asking, “Did that just happen?”

 

Abraham.In.Motion dancer Matthew Baker develops a sequence of movement by “catching what he can” of Kyle’s visual and verbal cues

Once we picked our jaws off the ground and Matthew got a chance to catch his breath, we sat back down for a conversation with the two artists. Kyle provided generous answers to our questions about his company and process, sharing insights about the shifting roles of dancers and choreographers, the value of time in choreographic development and honesty in performance, and the approach to working with new bodies while creating work on others. I must be getting early onset nostalgia as we approach our final Night School next week, because I could not help but recall all the lessons we’ve learned this semester as I heard Kyle speak about his work. Remember the exercise we did with Martine a couple of weeks back, where we had to remember our partner’s gestures as they told us “something nobody knew”? I thought of that session throughout Kyle’s “Catch What You Can.” How Charles helped us alter gestures so they would fit the two-dimensionality required by labanotation? Very similar to how Kyle revealed he will develop a gesture until it has traces of its origin but breathes a new life.

If there’s one thing I think we’ve all learned through Night School this year, it’s that there are many, many entryways into making, viewing, and discussing dance. We’ve had the privilege of unfolding these multiple layers throughout the weeks: questioning why plastic bags float in the air, how people walk on walls, or where Kyle Abraham finds his musical inspiration. But more time for reflection next week. This week, we have a marathon of events related to Kyle’s residency to look forward to! Remember, Friday and Saturday will showcase two different programs, so why not buy two sets of tickets and camp out at the Power Center this weekend? You can even stay an extra night and be fed bagels on Sunday at the first ever  UMS Brunch Download Conversation. Hope to see everyone this weekend, and at our LAST session/graduation next Monday night! In addition to thinking about the UMS dance season still to come, we will be celebrating with our Adventure Card raffle drawing, Perfect Attendance Awards, and of course, some food and drinks. So don’t miss out! No cap and gown necessary, just your presence and energy.

Upcoming Events:

Abraham.In.Motion Performances, Mar. 13-14, 8pm, Power Center (TICKET REQUIRED)

Related:

Mar. 13: Opening Night Q&A: Abraham.In.Motion, Power Center, post-performance (TICKET REQUIRED)

Mar. 14: You Can Dance: Abraham.In.Motion, Ann Arbor YMCA, 1:30-3pm (FREE – SIGN-UP REQUIRED, BEGINS AT 12:45PM, FIRST COME FIRST SERVE)

Mar. 14: Closing Night Q&A: Abraham.In.Motion, Power Center, post-performance (TICKET REQUIRED)

Mar. 15: Brunch Download with Kyle Abraham, U-M Alumni Center, 11am (FREE)

Session 4 Resources:

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, Live! The Realest MC Promotional Video

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, Pavement Promotional Video

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, The Gettin’ Promotional Video

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hillary is a senior in the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance, pursuing a BFA in Dance and Minor in Performing Arts Management. She is one of this year’s four UMS 21st Century Artist Interns, and spent this past summer interning for the Trisha Brown Dance Company in New York City. At U-M, Hillary serves as President of the Dance Student Assembly and on the planning committee for Michigan Performance Outreach Workshop. She has a strong interest in community engagement through the arts and has held internship positions in the education departments of Dance Place (Washington, DC) and American Ballet Theatre (New York City).
Love great music, theater, and dance?

Love great music, theater, and dance?

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