Kyle Abraham's music picks for modern class and choreographic inspiration

When you’re sitting in the dark theater of an Abraham.In.Motion performance, you just don’t know what will pour out of the speakers––an R&B beat, a classical étude, an electronic pulse. “Music was my entryway into dance. It’s really my first love,” says Kyle Abraham, artistic director/choreographer and a self-proclaimed music junkie who admits to purchasing at least two CDs a week. “When I create movement, it’s coming from the music. Sure there’s technique, but I’m really just dancing.”

Some selections for his evening-length work The Radio Show came from talking to his dancers and Facebook followers about their favorite songs on the radio. He avidly searches for new artists on Amazon. And his latest work, Live! The Realest M.C., which premiers in December at The Kitchen in NYC, features a live rap by Abraham himself.

A 2010 Princess Grace Awards choreography recipient and 2009 Dance Magazine “25 to Watch,” Abraham teaches at Bill Young’s 100 Grand, a small studio in SoHo, as well as master classes through his company. Like his eclectic music, his modern class is a tasting menu of influences. “I draw inspiration from a range of dance techniques and periods––from Cunningham to Kevin Wynn. And I’m a big fan of release technique,” he says.

Class begins with Klein exercises on the floor, progressing to core-oriented work that centers the body. Once standing, Abraham uses Cunningham as a foundation, layering release and drop swings. Before you know it, he has brought undulating spines and a touch of hip hop to the mix. And after moving across the floor, dancers get a taste of what he’s been working on, with a big movement phrase. “Regardless of age or ability, I want students to key in on what they really want to get out of class,” Abraham says. “Something brought them to this dance class, and I don’t want them to forget that or take themselves too seriously.” DT

 

Artist: Albert Mathias

“I teach a lot of workshops and always have new dancers. As an icebreaker, we sit in a circle and suggest something fun to do in the city, dance-related or not. It keeps the community alive. This experimental music plays in the background and then continues as we transition into a warm-up. I keep it on when I demonstrate, so there isn’t total silence in the room. I like to take one CD and go on a journey through the whole album.”

 

Artist: Michael Wall

Album: Music for Piano, v.1

“Michael has played for my recent master classes, and I bought his CD after. He usually starts out with classical piano work and then transitions into some minimalism. Once we’re standing, he’ll get into some R&B beats. Varying sounds in one class really allow students to tap into their own phrasing and quality of movement. It gives them a sense of ownership over the steps.”

 

Artist: Gustav Holst

Album: The Planets

“I like throwing in a count of 5 during across-the-floor, and there really aren’t too many great 5-tracks out there. His music is so dramatic that it almost makes you laugh. It allows dancers to not take themselves too seriously. When you laugh naturally, you’re letting go of that uptight upper body that comes from nerves. Then they can really get down into the floor.”

 

Artist: Alva Noto

“I like to use this when I’m creating movement––I actually used it while making most of The Radio Show. About 70 percent of the time I’m in rehearsal, I use it. It has a very dissonant sound and creates an atmosphere that’s not overwhelming. It really allows me to explore textures and space without being tied down to the music.”

 

Artist: Kanye West

“I worship Kanye. I’ve made multiple solos to his work. He’s not afraid to go outside of the standard hip-hop box and gets into intricate pockets of rhythms that allow you to explore your own. We’re often told to be careful of lyrics in dance, but I’m really adding my own layer to the musician’s story. If there’s too much mimicry, then the two aren’t depending on each other, and the story could be told without the music.”

 

(photo by Steven Schreiber, courtesy of Kyle Abraham)

Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

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