Kyle Abraham Shares an Exclusive First Look at A.I.M’s Newest Commission

This weekend, Kyle Abraham’s dance company A.I.M will debut Year, from decorated choreographer Andrea Miller who brings together artist and costume designer Orly Anan and composer Frédéric Despierre for a cross-disciplinary collaboration in pursuit of rendering the sublime.

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham dancer Donovan Reed performing in 'Year' by Andrea Miller. Credit: Courtesy of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham.

As a sought-after dancer and choreographer, Kyle Abraham has no shortage of projects on his plate. In addition to splitting his time between New York and L.A., the MacArthur Fellow and USC professor in residence has a global reach. Next month, his 2022 Fall Fashion Gala commission for New York City Ballet, Love Letter (on shuffle), will make a highly anticipated debut at Saddler’s Wells in the U.K., where he has also been commissioned by the nation’s Royal Ballet. Yet Abraham wears a rather different hat as the founder and artistic director of A.I.M, a dance company that commissions contemporary, often avant-garde works that center Black and queer performers, cultures, and stories. 

A.I.M’s latest endeavor, Year, is the brainchild of choreographer Andrea Miller, a Guggenheim Fellow, guest choreographer at the prestigious Alvin Ailey Dance Theater’s Ailey II division, and the first choreographer to be named an Artist in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Year grapples with “ritual, sacrifice, reincarnation, and the sublime,” Miller says, everywhere from the piece’s score, composed by Lido Pimienta, to the costumes designed in collaboration with Orly Anan, and, of course, Miller’s choreography. “The goal is to symbolize self-discovery and metamorphosis, celebrating the complexity of the human spirit through movement,” Anan says. “The costumes blends mesh fabric transparency and vibrant, full-colored masks to enhance the transformative nature of contemporary dance.”

Orly Anan and her studio team create the costumes for Andrea Miller's 'Year'. Credit: Courtesy of Orly Anan.

A deepened desire to explore the sublime inspired Miller to change direction on the piece’s musical accompaniment and reach out to Frédéric Despierre, and to work with Anan, a source of mutual creative respect and admiration who she met through musician Lido Pimienta. “Orly’s imagination has no borders. Her spirit and creativity is boundless running fluidly between performance, textiles, fashion, music, masks, sculpture, and wearable art,” Miller says. “With Year, we discussed the themes and she came up with her own understanding of what that meant in her expressive language. We knew we wanted the body to be at the center, but also allow for something almost otherworldly to be possible.”

Abraham sat down with Surface to share an exclusive preview of Year’s costume design, lighting, and a first look at the performance, which will hold its world premiere on Saturday, Feb. 17 at George Mason University in Virginia.  

How would you describe Year to someone who knows nothing about dance?

Kyle Abraham: It’s dark. It’s guttural. It’s passionate. I lean into the abstraction and the virtuosity we’re seeing in the dancers. I’d say it’s sexy. Ironically, it’s sexy in a way that’s very different, in its exhaustion. There’s something about the exhaustion and the different type of virtuosity, in the sense of repetition with nuance. It’s really interesting and exciting—hopefully that makes someone curious.

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham dancer Donovan Reed performing in 'Year'. Photo credit: courtesy of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham.

Those words—guttural, virtuosity, exhaustion—and the way Miller describes it evoke Pina Bausch’s electrifying Rite of Spring

What’s ironic is that was originally going to be the score. Miller originally wanted to make a piece to [Stravinsky’s] Rite of Spring. I give artists an opportunity to have some play dates and workshops with the company before it’s their actual creation time. That’s what she was interested in during her play dates, but that started to shift over time.

We can talk about music and a choreographer’s statement and intent, but do you consider dance to be a universal language at its heart?

It is, but in a way that you shouldn’t have to work too hard to decipher its meaning. It’s the same way that a Rorschach test is also a piece of art—Warhol would have Rorschach tests as artwork. Ultimately, it’s this sense of looking at something and finding not only beauty in it, but asking: what do you see in this work that doesn’t have to be questioned? There doesn’t have to be a finite answer in terms of what you’re seeing and how you’re seeing it, or what the thing makes you feel.

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham dancers rehearse 'Year' by Andrea Miller. Credit: Alexander Diaz

How does Miller express the guttural, the sublime, through choreography and patterns of movement? 

She has this really beautiful innocence to her. Her passion, in some ways, is unfiltered. That’s where it gets to that guttural place. She’s not questioning if these things are okay. She’s just like, “Well, why not?”

It’s so beautifully innocent—not ignorant—but innocent, refreshing. And it’s all from love and passion. She’s a very passionate and loving person, and you see so much of that in this work and the prompts she’s giving the dancers. In a lot of the material, she’s asking a dancer to generate movement, sure, but it’s the prompt and the way that she’s directing them to push themselves further and see what those limits are. That really excites me. 

Swatch samples and concept sketches by Orly Anan for 'Year' costumes. Credit: Courtesy of Orly Anan.
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