The Little Spark of Firebird

On April 14, 2017 at 8pm I made my way to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre to watch the Atlanta Ballet perform Firebird. I arrive to the theatre 45 minutes early, which was to my advantage because I was able to go to a pre-talk in the theatre before the show. The talk was hosted by the general manager of Atlanta Ballet, Bradley Renner, and assistant to the choreographer for Petite Mort, Elke Schepers. Schepers revealed that the process of developing Petite Mort with Jiri Kylian was difficult and slow. She told us that it was hard to move forward because she was too much in her head and Kylian had to break her out of her shell so she could be a free dancer. She told the pre-show crowd that each dancers has to bring something personal to the piece but remain in the original frame of the work. Schepers answered a question from the audience telling us that there is no narrative or plotline to look for. Petite Mort is an abstract and sensual piece about connecting and disconnecting. The most difficult part for the dancers is dancing with the fencing foils and working with the dress props.

A lot of audience members were confused and thought that they were only coming to see Firebird, as did I. The first piece danced was Allegro Brillante choreographed by George Balanchine. There were ten dancers total in this piece. It was refreshing to see such a diverse cast on stage; my eye was drawn to the black ballerina. I also noticed different body shapes; some of the girls were bustier than your typical ballerina body. This piece was cute and predictable. None of the formations were revolution or different from the typical two staggered lines, a circle and diagonals. This piece followed all the rules of ballet probably because the man who set the rules for ballet choreographed it. I felt like the dancers were in a forest and garden based off of their costumes.

The second piece was Petite Mort choreographed by Jiri Kylian. This dance was a delightful and much appreciated contrast to the first piece. The last time I saw this piece performed was on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The question that I kept on ask myself throughout this piece is what makes it a contemporary ballet piece instead of just a contemporary piece. They are not wearing ballet shoes and their lines are perfect like in the first piece. Perhaps it is because it was choreographed by a ballet choreographer on a ballet company. There were a lot of turned in and turned out positions as well as connecting and disconnecting. It took me a moment to see where the support was happening it almost seemed like a magic balancing act. There was suspension in this piece, a lot of floating of men, women and limbs in mid air.

Firebird was the last piece of the program as it was the headlining program for the evening. Everything about this production was spectacle and over the top from the costumes, to the props, to the set. The story was cute. I didn’t really agree with the storyline all that much, I don’t understand why the prince didn’t choose the Firebird after she saved his life or why the Firebird even fell in love with him after he captured her. The three moments that stood out to me had nothing to do with the dancing. The first thing was the orange wig that Firebird was wearing. The second moment was when the Sorcerer popped out of the fog to capture the Prince and the third moment was when the Prince cracked the Sorcerer’s egg open and it was a flashing bright light. Those moments really woke me up from the stagnancy of the piece.

Dancing Double Consciousness

This is a dance review for Kyle Abraham’s performance for Food for Thought at Danspace Project in 2008 that I wrote in my Writing for Dance class.

Dancing Double Consciousness

        Turn on the news and the phrase “a black man, wearing a hoodie and baggy pants…” will most likely be followed by: “is a suspect, criminal, gang member, violent, dangerous.” At Food for Thought at Danspace Project in 2008 a black man stood center stage wearing a hoodie and baggy pants.Here he wasn’t a threat but an artist. The culprit artist was Kyle J. Abraham. Mr. Abraham is a critically acclaimed modern choreographer whose newest work is being performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre across the country. In 2008 at Food for Thought it was just him, center stage, looking like the stereotypical description of a black menace to society. And what do menaces to society in hoodies listen to? “A Milli” by Lil Wayne, which began to play. I am being facetious of course, and perhaps Abraham is too. Lil Wayne sings:

I’m a Young Money Millionaire, tougher than Nigerian hair,

My criteria compared to your career just isn’t fair,

I’m a venereal disease like a menstrual bleed

        Cockiness is cockiness is a common trait among black Americans who have reached a certain level of success (as defined by popularity, demand, and dollars). Perhaps the cockiness, or confidence rather, is justifiable for artist such as Lil Wayne and Kyle Abraham because they are able to work with their double consciousness and create art that resonates with large audiences. Double consciousness is the struggle a person feels when having to balance a multifaceted identity. If it were up to mainstream media Abraham and Lil Wayne would be dead or in jail, yet both artist took their history, identity and fate in their own hands, created art, and put it on the world stage. They both are making their way in western society but it is “tougher than Nigerian hair”, which Abraham physically demonstrates as he does the “weave tap” gesture twice in his untitled solo work.

How do Abraham and Lil Wayne feel by being wealthy black artists while police are killing other black men? Society didn’t plan on homosexuality and modern dance for Kyle Abraham. How does Kyle J. Abraham define himself to the world, since the world did not originally make space for him nor others who share his experience? He dances. The struggle and beauty of being a person of color in the LGBTQ community is defined perhaps in the hip swings and chest thrust of his solo at Food for Thought. The head bobbing and crumping expressed by Abraham introduces the audience to a different identity, and the petite allegro with pirouettes introduces us to yet another facet of his story.

       A black man in a hoodie and baggy pants stands with a slight hunch in his shoulders. His back is to the audience, full identity unknown. His hands are clasp together in front of him as the Lil Wayne starts to rap the dancer lets the weight of his hands guide him  in a bop from left to right that makes his knees bounce. As the weight in his clasped hands swings from left to right his head starts to bob up and down, left to right depending on the guidance of the arms, shoulders jumping in reaction.

If you can’t beat ’em then you pop ’em,

You can’t man em then you mop ’em,

You can’t stand em then you drop em…

As the rhythm and beat of the rap song manifest between his hands, the dancer begins to cradle the beat, as a black man would cradle the cockiness of Lil Wayne’s music. The rock motion eases along to the beat the punches aggressively like the lyrics. The aggressive cradling intensifies, giving spinal whiplash, and then transfers to his hips. The transition is seamless, a natural progression as the arms hit the pelvis awakening the hips to take on their responsibility of showing us another personality that was not present before. The hips circle at a slower beat to the floor. I’ll admit that I was staring at derrière; I think that’s what he wanted. It was a black boy magic trick as he was just doing a downward high speed cabbage patch to now a Caribbean wind down to the floor. It was also magic how he showed us multiple identities that he created specifically to him.

As the piece progresses, the layers of Kyle Abraham began to reveal themselves through specific gestures of hip swishing, bucking. If you are not familiar with Abraham’s style you would not see the double coupe turns and petite allegro coming. Classical dance technique was present in this solo. A black man with studio dance, street and club training created this solo to showcase it all. The technical movements of ballet and modern aesthetic were sprinkled as brief transitions in this piece, clearly not to be the focus, but just to make an appearance.

Attempting to define who you are in a world that wants to define you with no retaliation is a difficult feat. This solo choreographed by Abraham looked like it was hard on him through is facial expression, but then also easy based on other expressions. Mapping out double consciences for yourself can take a lifetime because first you have to understand how history sees you, how the world sees you and then how you see yourself. This piece defines Kyle Abraham’s double consciences without him having to say a world. Identity is in how we dance.

DiDS Foundation Present Qadry Manns

Hi! My name is Qadry Manns & I’m a senior dance major at Morehouse College. I’ve been accepted into Staib dance’s summer intensive in Sorrento, Italy! It’s my dream to become a professional dancer & this intensive is one of the stepping stones I’d like to use to get there. I’ve only been dancing about 3 years, so this opportunity means a lot to me. You can help my dreams come true! Any contributions are greatly appreciated! Thank you ❤️