If there was a way to hang out in Charleston for the entire ten days of the Spoleto Festival I would do it in a heartbeat. Alas, I have these silly things called responsibilities here in Columbia, and have been unable to make it back down as of yet. My good friend Anne Postic (aka The Shop Tart) went down this week and saw one of the performances that I was most sad to miss, so I asked if she would write about it here at CamilleMaurice. She's a fun girlfriend and a great writing buddy, so I was thrilled when she agreed. Here is she has to say: I don’t really feel qualified to review a performance. After all, there is no way could I do even half of the things those dancers do. (And, trust, I have tried, much to the chagrin of my children, even though it was in the privacy of our home.) In fact, I only decided to see The Radio Show at the Spoleto Festival after the lovely Shani tweeted this:
— Shani Gilchrist (@CamilleMaurice) June 2, 2012
My sister, who had accompanied me to Charleston, was going to a chamber music performance. I don’t have the patience for chamber music even though I know, in theory, that I should like it. Maybe when I grow up. Anyhow, dance performances -- especially those that involve a bit of toe tapping on the part of the observer -- are right up my alley. Besides, Shani knows the arts and if she wants to see it, Abraham.In.Motion must be good. I knew I was in the right place when the performance started with one of the lead dancers extending his hand to a couple of audience members for a quick jitterbug*. Audience participation is always fun, especially when I’m seated in the middle of a row, unlikely to be tapped.
The show comprises several shorter pieces, all based on Kyle Abraham’s memories of listening to two Pittsburgh radio stations -- Hot 106.7 WAMO and sister station AM 860 -- during car rides with his family. In 2009, WAMO went off the air. Abraham contemplated the place of urban radio during times of turmoil in the black community and was inspired to create The Radio Show. Ten years ago, his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is now experiencing aphasia, a loss of voice he compares to the casualty of urban radio.
Judging from the music -- which ranged from my mother’s favorites like the Shirelles and Gladys Knight, as well as singers who provided the soundtrack to my younger aunts‘ and uncles‘ club years like Al Green, all the way to the sounds of my own childhood, including Mary Mary, Klymaxx and Slick Rick, and newer favorites, like Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Jay Sean -- Kyle Abraham is more or less my age. Listening to the show was like a journey from the late seventies until now, a musical montage I experienced in my head. Audience members ranged in age from single digits to octogenarian and I wondered what that music meant to each of them. The younger ones perked up for the later selections, while the older crowd murmured appreciatively. A far cry from the crowd at a more staid performance, quiet comments could be heard-- Ahhhhhh, who is this? The Marvellettes? No, no, the Shirelles.--all said with a nostalgic smile.
Most of us have a soundtrack, whether we know it or not, and for many years, the radio provided it. Regional favorites played in the background while people lived, in happy times and sad. The Radio Show even included some requests and commentary from the DJs. I’m not from Pittsburgh, but the sounds were not unfamiliar. The Radio Show addresses the human experience, good and bad. Kyle Abraham understands people. Watching the dancers perform his choreography gave me the feeling he would understand me. He doesn’t shy away from anything, touching on the experiences of people of all ages, men and women, good and bad. The show was humorous and sad, light hearted and heavy, celebratory and damning.
I did experience one moment of irritation, though not with Abraham.In.Motion. During one piece featuring a man and a woman being physically violent with each other, the audience laughed. Not when the man hit the woman, because they understood the gravity of that. The chuckled when the woman returned the favor. In my view, violence -- towards anyone, for any reason -- is wrong. The gender of the participants is irrelevant. (Well, not irrelevant, because when is gender in our culture ever irrelevant? But violence is still wrong.) To be fair, I did laugh when two female dancers took the stage and argued over a boy. One of them pulled up her hair and reached for a tub of Vaseline to cover her face, so punches would slide instead of land solidly. Anyhow, I’m not perfect, but I would like to make the point here that it’s just as wrong for a woman to rough up her man as it is for him to hurt her.
Abraham’s -- at least I think it was Abraham -- performance as an older adult suffering from tremors and confusion was particularly moving, a testament to his skills at choreography and communication through movement. I am almost always moved by the physical prowess displayed in a dance performance. After all, I took enough dance classes in my youth that I know exactly how difficult and elusive most of those are for most of us. Rarely am I as impressed by the performers as actors and the way a story is told. Abraham.In.Motion. and the Radio Show have it all.
The audience loved the show, as did I. The movement was powerful and it was difficult to decide which dancer to watch when they were on stage together. The longer solo pieces were riveting**, the energy and acting chops of the soloists undeniable. The show made me want to go home and look up YouTube videos of everything from jitterbug and shag to sliding and gliding and jerkin’, which I did, much to the amusement of my children. I tried not to injure myself as I marveled anew at the company’s skill.
Every piece, each clip from a song, meant something different to everyone. On that note, I leave you with this: Slick Rick’s Children’s Story.
A real reviewer might know the name of the dancer, most likely choreographer Kyle Abraham. A real reviewer might also know the name of the dance. It looked like a jitterbug, so there you are. A real dance writer might not have obsessed about the male dancers’ distressed, open-back polo shirts, in the perfect, chic shade of mauve, contemplating how she could recreate that look for herself, and still manage to wear a bra. No, a real reviewer would not have done that, but I did.
** Again, a real reviewer -- or one who had known she was going to be asked to review the piece -- would have taken better notes. I regret being unable to give individual dancers credit, but they were all incredible, so there’s that.
And here's a little snippet of what we experienced at the performance:
If you go down this weekend, be sure to head over to the festival finale featuring Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole at Middleton Place. There will be fun, fireworks and music for all!