What becomes of the brokenhearted? If you’re Kyle Abraham, you channel your heartbreak into some really fierce dancing and invite others to share your pain.
Abraham presented Heartbreaks and Homies February 11 and 12 at Joe’s Pub, just in time for Valentine’s Day. For those who loathe that holiday, Abraham’s show offered a cathartic alternative—a chance to indulge in the kind of hurts-so-good feeling you get from cataloguing the various wrongs done to you or obsessing over the wrong guy. With a soundtrack heavy on R&B torch songs and plenty of booze to go around, the stage was set for a bittersweet sampler of the myriad ways in which love can, well, suck.
Most of the works on the program, which kicked off DanceNOW’s 2011 Dancemopolitan series, were choreographed and performed by Abraham and members of his troupe, Abraham.In.Motion. Sharing the bill were the aforementioned Homies: David Dorfman, Faye Driscoll, and Alex Escalante.
In the weeks leading up to the show, Abraham invited his Facebook fans to share their favorite heartbreak songs, and he ended up using two of them (“These Arms of Mine” by Otis Redding and “Where Will You Be” by Yaw) in his opening solo. In that piece, which also included Sam Cooke’s “Love Me,” Abraham embodied the songs’ desperate longing. With satiny turns and extensions dissolving into juddering limbs and heavy, staggering steps, he seemed to be perpetually pulling himself back from the verge of collapse.
Abraham also served as the show’s curator. In an interview with New York Press, he said he chose the three guest choreographers based on his admiration for and kinship with their work: Escalante, Abraham’s classmate at SUNY Purchase, shares elements of his hip-hop aesthetic, Driscoll his penchant for the theatrical. And Dorfman is a mentor in whose company Abraham has danced since 2007.
Dorfman’s offering was an excerpt from his newest work, Prophets of Funk, set to “That Kind of Person” by Sly and the Family Stone. A very groovy Jenna Riegel and Raja Feather Kelly, his lank frame topped by a lush Afro, transcended the limitations of the tiny stage as they teased, sparred, and generally threw each other around, with Riegel at one point sliding under Kelly to hoist him up on one shoulder.
Later in the program came the words no one wants to hear: “I called you here today for a bit of bad news. I won’t be able to see you anymore.” The recipient of this dreaded news is Escalante, who turned “Kiss and Say Goodbye” by The Manhattans into a two-way conversation to hilarious effect.
The Manhattans: “Maybe you’ll meet another guy.”
Escalante: “But I don’t want to meet another guy.”
The Manhattans: “Let’s just kiss and say goodbye.”
Escalante: “Why don’t you kiss my fucking ass?”
Most of the works were new, including Driscoll’s experiment in decay #2, a work-in-progress that the choreographer requested not be reviewed yet. Suffice to say that the guest choreographers’ works, along with Abraham’s solos, were the evening’s gems. Some of the others, duets and trios performed by members of Abraham.In.Motion, tended to fade into the background.
A couple of exceptions included “My Funny Valentine,” in which dancers Chalvar Montiero and Christopher Nolan worked their way through some tricky partnering while engaged in a lengthy lip-lock (that old choreographic warhorse). And Montiero and Elyse Morris gave us a glimpse of untroubled love with a tender duet set to M. Ward’s cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”
Abraham had been on the fence about whether to end the show on that relatively happy note. In the end, though, he took the spotlight in a final solo, this time in the role of the heartbreaker. Alone in the dark, reaching out to various audience members as if seeking comfort (or forgiveness?) Abraham showed that heartbreak isn’t necessarily any less painful when you’re the one who’s done wrong.
Michelle Vellucci is a Manhattan-based dance writer and book critic.