By Cathy Levy, Executive Producer, Dance, Canada’s National Arts Centre

One of the great joys of my work as a dance producer is the time I spend talking with artists about their creative aspirations. It’s not always obvious how these discussions translate into presentations, nor is it always possible to make that happen, but the conversations are invariably insightful. I feel fortunate to have had several one-on-one conversations with New York-based choreographer Kyle Abraham over the last few years, most recently as we shaped the repertoire for his upcoming National Arts Centre presentation.

When I first invited Kyle to the NAC in 2014, I requested his full-evening, Bessie award-winning The Radio Show, an evocative ensemble piece in which he himself danced. Although he had moved away from performing and was focused on other touring works, I wanted his NAC debut to feature him onstage. I felt the piece was relevant and universal in its themes — family and the effects of Alzheimer’s juxtaposed against the closing of a beloved radio station in his hometown of Pittsburgh. The show’s arc allowed the audience to feel personally touched by interweaving stories, not to mention the sensational dancing and Kyle’s textured choreography. I was glad he agreed, and the work was very successfully received.

I continued to follow Kyle, attending rehearsals and performances, sitting with him at other shows, chatting about his priorities and what his next project with us might be. With each encounter, we got to know each other and our individual professional realities a bit more. I spoke to several international presenters about his work and encouraged them to pay attention. Kyle’s world kept getting busier, so I knew it was important to reserve dates when we could realize a return engagement.

While continuing to present full-evening signature pieces, Kyle recently curated a mixed bill of his own and other’s works, showcasing three New York choreographers — Andrea Miller, Doug Varone and Bebe Miller. His aim was to both highlight his admiration for these artists and to give his dancers the breadth of experience that comes with dancing other rep. As well, after a hiatus of nearly 10 years, he had made a new solo for himself, INDY.

After attending the premiere at the Joyce in New York, I sat down with Kyle on two occasions to design his second program for the NAC. We discussed what I call the horizontal and vertical flow of the evening (something I apply to my season planning as well), that is, how do you build a coherent flow through the performance so the viewer has a connected journey, while at the same time letting each work stand on its own?

I had two requests: I wanted him to dance once again on our stage, this time with INDY, and I was eager to present The Quiet Dance, an exquisite piece from 2011 set to the late iconic pianist Bill Evans’ transcription of Leonard Bernstein’s Some Other Time.

Kyle wanted to include at least one other choreographer, reflective of his current focus with his company A.I.M (Abraham in Motion). We zeroed in on Andrea Miller’s all-female trio State, as it was specially commissioned for A.I.M and would provide a subtle energy to the evening. Finally, we agreed that Kyle’s 2017 ensemble work, Drive, with its full-on exuberance, would pack a wallop at the end of the program.

At our final discussion in Los Angeles, we looked at each other across a hotel lobby table, imagining these four works unfolding over an evening. He smiled that irresistible Kyle smile and said, “YES, that works.”

His agreement meant a lot, and gave me and my colleagues at the NAC the go-ahead to pursue the countless ensuing details — technical and production needs, budget, timing and other logistics — with his team. I’m sure the result will be spectacular.

Kyle Abraham and A.I.M are at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa in April 2020.

DI WINTER 2019

Kyle Abraham in his solo INDY
Photo: Steven Schreiber