The work, which debuted in New York in November, was the 35-year-old choreographer and dancer’s take on the contemporary black experience. His acknowledged touchstones included the film Boyz N The Hood. But what dominated were Abraham’s blending of diverse musical styles (opera, classical, hip-hop, soul) and a movement language that ranged from ballet to street dance, often transitioning in the blink of an eye.
Pavement’s set was the mockup of an outdoor basketball court (standing in, he’s said, for East Liberty, Homewood and the Hill), but nobody in the electric seven-member cast was hooping. Instead, the stage was the space for poetic evocations of inner-city life, sometimes carefree, often harsh. I’ve seen several of Abraham’s works here over the years — at venues including the Kelly-Strayhorn and New Hazlett theaters — and this was the most thematically rigorous and conceptually cohesive.
A powerful motif was the sight of a young black man — usually Abraham himself — lying on his stomach, legs splayed and wrists crossed behind his back. The first first instances, the young man in custody was placed there by (we assume) a “cop,” often protrayed by one of the company’s white dancers. Quickly, though, the young men were taking each other into custody … and then, unassisted, lying down and “cuffing” themselves.
The hour-long work’s arc included video images of an urban high-rise being imploded and, most disturbingly, a soundtrack ruptured by multiple sudden episodes of gunfire, sometimes accompanied by sobbing.
Somewhere in the middle of Pavement, it felt like Abraham started repeating themes and even staging, with only minor variations. And a couple stretches of empty stage (including the one that began the work) and sequences where dancers posed motionlessly upon the stage, were longer than necessary.
But those are fairly minor points. Abraham and his young troupe are seldom less than exciting to watch. It’s no wonder they’re a hit in New York, where they’re based, and even making a name overseas. Contemporary dance troupes can’t get much bigger locally than a Pittsburgh Dance Council booking, whose stage is typically reserved for more established American troupes and world-renowned European companies. Abraham made the most of it.