The famed choreographer’s newest work Are You in Your Feelings? premieres with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater this week.
Choreographer Kyle Abraham is known for creating art that challenges us to dig deeper into the Black experience. His work Untitled America, commissioned for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2016, shined a light on the impact of the prison system on African American families. He’s taken a much lighter route with his newest production, Are You in Your Feelings?, which makes its World Premiere this week as part of Alvin Ailey’s new season at New York City Center (just days before he receives the dance world’s top honor—the Dance Magazine Award). In alignment with Artistic Director Robert Battle’s themes of love for this new season, Abraham’s new work celebrates Black culture, Black music and the youthful spirit that perseveres in us all.
Mixing traditional ballet with contemporary hip hop moves that could be busted out at any dance party—all set to a mixtape of soul, hip hop and R&B—the Ailey company’s large ensemble of dancers work in syncopated steps that cast off a feeling of weightlessness, light and airy but still grounded by precision and technique.
Abraham took a few moments out of his nonstop schedule to talk about his newest work and reflect on his long and celebrated history with the revered dance institution.
EBONY: Are You in Your Feelings? is quite different from your last Ailey piece, Untitled America.
Kyle Abraham: I'm really grateful for the impact Untitled America had and what it meant to the dancers in the Ailey company. I've gotten to a point with my work where I've always highlighted and showcased who we are as a people and our trials and tribulations. With Are You in Your Feelings?, I wanted to celebrate us that much more. It’s still a work that highlights our culture through a different point of entry, one that connects to some of the music we grew up with. A lot of them are breakup songs, but songs that we all have a certain kind of affinity for that can be celebrated and seen.
What story are you telling with Are You in Your Feelings?
When you think about An Untitled Love, a work I made for my company A.I.M. set to the music of D’Angelo, I purposely only chose love songs that honored the way in which we love and celebrate each other and our culture. With Are You in Your Feelings? I wanted to focus more on that in a completely opposite way but still rooted in the heart of love.
You want people to experience fun, even if some of it is rooted in heartache.
There's a lot of connection between the ability to have fun and dancing to breakup songs because of your personal history with the music. Everyone will probably have a different experience with what’s being played; maybe some of the songs are ones that your parents grew up playing. Maybe some of the songs you're hearing for the first time. But you can start creating your own narratives based on what you're hearing.
Is there an Alvin Ailey production that specifically speaks to you?
Oh, all of them really! There are so many that speak to me in terms of dance theater: Blues Suite, Masekela Langage, and the list goes on and on. The drama of Alvin Ailey’s Flowers and knowing that a dancer has to find that theatricality in their performance is really interesting to think about. I am also interested in humor as well. Talley Beatty’s Stack-Up, which the Ailey company premiered in 1982, is hilarious to me. It’s one of my favorite dances. I’m someone who loves John Waters, so I love finding those moments of humor and history and culture.
What do you want people to take away from Are You in Your Feelings?
Are You in Your Feelings? is a vibe, really. I don't think it needs to be looked at as a very literal work. I don't think you need to search for meaning. Hopefully, you just enjoy yourself. Enjoy the experience. I think all too often, especially with new dance audiences, people are trying to find meaning. Just live in the experience and just see what you can take away from it. I would love for people to just take it in and find themselves in the work, find some connection to the songs, or to different dancers. One of the most important things I'm really hoping to do is honor our culture and find intergenerational connectivity with the choreography in my own personal mission as an artist.