“It’s a celebratory work in a lot of ways,” Kyle Abraham says. “So much of the conversation around the Black experience has been focused on the untimely deaths of Black and brown bodies and the extreme racial injustice we face. I wanted to make a work focused on love, and how we love.” Of course, “how we love” implies a plunge into a deep and boundless sea of emotions—which is in no small part the point. As he says near the end of our phone interview, Abraham hopes his new evening-length dance piece will illustrate “the Black experience to not be monolithic, or for there to be any perceived ideas about what our experience is or should be.” And Abraham, a MacArthur fellow and Bessie-winning choreographer who seems to have the infinite lexicon of human movement at his effortless command, is well-equipped for the dive. In “An Untitled Love,” premiering at the Dance Center of Columbia College September 16-18, Abraham and his New York-based company, A.I.M. by Kyle Abraham, celebrate the tones and hues of Black love across generations through R & B, particularly the music of his formative years.
“I’m thinking of 1996, the year D’Angelo’s first album came out and my first year in college,” Abraham says. “I went to Morgan State, a Historically Black University, and a lot came up for me about what that love and pride can be like, and what that music did for me and does for me still. There’s a bit of nostalgia, a bit of pride, a lot of love.” Abraham sets his hourlong love letter to the music of D’Angelo, nodding to other artists of decades past with a pre-show “grown folks playlist” to set the mood.
“This work is paying homage to my parents and the aunts and uncles who are not blood relatives but who helped raise me in a lot of ways, and how enamored of them I was. How they carried themselves with a lot of ease and freedom and joy,” he says. “Being around my parents and their friends and watching them enjoy their music over the years I thought, ‘What would that music be for me, being forty-something now, if I had kids and were playing my songs?’”
Abraham declines to provide spoilers when I ask what some of those songs are…and as a grown folk of roughly the same age, if different cultural background, my mixtape curiosity is piqued. Moreover, I’m heartened that one of Chicago’s best dance venues will reopen its doors with sorely needed stories of love and joy, imparted by a great artist and exemplary company—a benediction for better days.
“An Untitled Love” at the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan, September 16-18, 7:30pm. $30, industry $15, students $10. Tickets at dance.column.edu.