For his latest work, titled Dearest Home, which premiered on May 16 in San Francisco, Kyle Abraham told us that he drew on his personal experiences of love and loss, and on the experiences of LGBT seniors and teens who participated in workshops led by Abraham during the two-year creative process. The audience of about 150, gathered in the round in the studio at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts known as the Forum, found themselves close enough to the dancers to note the blister pads on their toes, the sweat on their brows, and the tears in their eyes. It was a close to ideal setting for this wrenching, sometimes joyful, often thrilling, journey through the thickets of intimacy.

Jeremy “Jae” Neal and Vinson Fraley of ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION, <i>Dearest Home</i> © Carrie Schneider
Jeremy “Jae” Neal and Vinson Fraley of ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION, Dearest Home
© Carrie Schneider

At one point, dancer Matthew Baker raced around the floor in distress, then froze, engulfed in sobs. I’m sure I was not alone in wanting to reach out and comfort this lonely, grief-stricken young man. Or perhaps dial emergency services (my notes read: “can one die of a broken heart?”)

Dearest Home is more meditative than the lacerating creations I’ve seen from Abraham, both in subject matter and in dance language. Less influenced by street dance than in some of his previous work, the expansive movement feels both weighty and airborne – qualities enhanced by Dan Scully’s poetic lighting and the pensive electronic score by Jerome Begin. The solos, duets and trio that form this work were originally choreographed on the dancers in silence. But – in a departure from the usual way of consuming dance – the audience was given the option of listening (through wireless earphones) to the score, which had been composed to fit the work without the dancers ever having heard it. We could also opt to watch the piece in silence. I chose to listen to the music and found Begin’s shimmering composition utterly beguiling, notwithstanding the occasional burst of interference.

‘Home’ in the title evokes memories of loved ones and spaces where we can relax, be ourselves, and wander around in our underwear. Orderly rituals of dressing and undressing feature prominently in this work, adding an air of vulnerability to the cast of six dancers. At times the dancers would sink slowly to the ground, crushed by the weight of unseen sorrows, but they always seemed to find the courage to rise up again and forge ahead.

Marcella Lewis and Catherine Kirk of ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION in <i>Dearest Home</i> © Tim Barden
Marcella Lewis and Catherine Kirk of ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION in Dearest Home
© Tim Barden

Narrative elements were somewhat obscured, but we could piece together what was going on emotionally: the heartbreak of a mother whose child leaves her. A couple in the throes of uncoupling. A romantic triangle in which everyone was sad.

Not every encounter was mired in despair, however. Tamisha Guy and Jeremy “Jae” Neal plunged into a spirited courtship: she teased him, tried to throw him off-balance and off stage, but he took it in stride; this was a delightful partnership of equals. Marcella Lewis and Stephanie Terasaki made an uneasy effort at intimacy, constantly looking over a shoulder as if anxious about what other people might think. They eventually found an easy, playful rhythm together, expressed in a series of carefree cabrioles. And in a transcendent solo, the mercurial Connie Shiau embarked on a perilous journey, stalked by an invisible enemy – nevertheless, she persisted.

Abraham’s movement on these dancers didn’t feel organic – it felt like the movement coursed through them like unpredictable bursts of electromagnetic energy. At moments, it turned the lithe and lyrical Shiau into an explosive.

This was in remarkable contrast to a performance I saw a few days prior by Robert Moses’ Kin in Trick Bags/Trap Doors/Painted Corners. In that piece, Moses' movement seemed entirely natural to his dancers, like their native language which they used to communicate with each other and with the audience.

Marcella Lewis of ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION in <i>Dearest Home</i> © Tim Barden
Marcella Lewis of ABRAHAM.IN.MOTION in Dearest Home
© Tim Barden

For the dancers in Dearest Home, on the other hand, dance seemed more like something thrown at them, like bitter twists of fate, conflicts or fetters that had to be shaken off. Their struggle to communicate, and to achieve an intimacy with each other, was thus a kind of heroic act.

In the final episode, solitude triumphed over intimacy. In a deepening twilight, Neal walked out alone onto the floor, stripped naked, then glided, twisted and lunged with glorious conviction – as if to remind us that the solitary existence is also a rich one. He then walked out, leaving us in a contemplative mood as night fell on the studio.