This evening, Kyle Abraham’s “double feature” at New York Live Arts continues with the second of the two programs, a three-part evening presented under the title When the Wolves Came In. (You can read more about the first part in my previous review )

When the Wolves Came In doubles as the title of the evening’s opening work, an ensemble piece featuring the entire company – except for Abraham himself. The centerpiece of the set design is a large mural, looking like an (intentionally) glitchy, double-exposed black-and-white image of KKK, juxtaposed with more contemporary silhouettes of men in suits and hats that appear to rush towards them.

<i>When the wolve came in</i> Abraham.In.Motion © Ian Douglas
When the wolve came in Abraham.In.Motion
© Ian Douglas
The image, admittedly, is largely abstract, so I offer this as my interpretation, rather than a definitive statement of what it represents. And yet, the tension between white and black textures on the wall-sized image, regardless of the artist Glenn Ligon’s intention, resonates deeply with the history of racial tensions, which is the running theme of Abraham’s season at the Live Arts, and which pays homage to Max Roach’s 1960 protest album We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. Unlike the previous evening’s The Watershed, this first piece in tonight’s trilogy comfortably negotiates in abstract images. The choreography, for the largest part, appears as an exercise in reproducing classical forms, with a bit of a twist. Dressed in tight-fitting body suits and beehive wigs of varying heights, Abraham’s ensemble conjures a certain BDSM thread in tableau-like scenes. Master and servant images are built, then dismantled, later to reappear with different configurations, making me wonder – even in the face of oppression, who is the actual winner? I would argue that the strongest aspect of When the Wolves Came In lies within its embodiment of the ambiguous, inextricable relationship between power and the lack of control.

<i>Hallowed</i> Abraham.In.Motion © Ian Douglas
Hallowed Abraham.In.Motion
© Ian Douglas
The first work fluidly segues into Hallowed; the transition mainly being indicated by the rear-wall mural’s transformation with a projected cloud cover. Beginning with a single dancer, who is gradually joined by two others, it is significant that Hallowed is the only work, over the course of both evenings, to feature an entirely African-American cast. Dressed in identical, sober, grey-colored ensembles, the three dancers perform much more sustained (and contained) movement, a blend of ghetto attitude, vogue and modern dance, often with a longing, upward gaze, and against the backdrop of the spirituals recorded during 1960’s church sermons. The environment appeared to be a purgatory of sorts, where souls needed to exercise the abuse and discrimination they had endured in order to be able to transition into their final resting place. The shortest amongst the works presented in the season, Hallowed is also the most coherent of them all.

<i>The Gettin</i> Abraham.In.Motion © Ian Douglas
The Gettin Abraham.In.Motion
© Ian Douglas
The third, and final piece of the evening, The Gettin’, is also the most problematic overall. The work appears to be Abraham’s attempt to create a truly multi-disciplinary piece – including a jazz quartet performing live on the stage, six dancers and a constant stream of documentary film footage (referencing, among other issues, the American Civil Rights movement and the South African Apartheid) projected on the back wall. Featuring surprisingly uninspired dance-hall-style choreography, and cross-media elements that are not at all integrated, The Gettin’ is wholly uneven in concept, direction and execution. Sadly, this work exemplifies that prolificity and versatility do not translate into proficiency: dabbling in a multitude of styles rarely trumps one’s ability to master at least one of them.

Overall, I found the company’s season at the New York Live Arts surprisingly – and disappointingly – uneven. I sense, in Abraham, an inquisitive mind at work, fervently searching for his own voice: judging from the work shown over the past two evenings, I would say he has not found it yet.

**111