Kyle Abraham’s Pavement is a cri de coeur for black America. Political, painful and cerebral, it’s written in a far-reaching physical language that incorporates ballet, capoeira, breaking, demotic movement and the earthbound vocabulary of modern dance. Early hip hop’s eclectic sampling aesthetic finds an echo in a score comprising Baroque oratorio, Sam Cooke, siren wails and snatches of movie dialogue.
Originally choreographed in 2011, Pavement draws on John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, which chronicles the lives of two African American teenagers in South Central LA caught in the trap of gang violence and gun crime. Abraham relocates the piece to his hometown of Pittsburgh, with its once-flourishing black districts now ravaged by deprivation and crack cocaine.
True to the title – the word pavement is rooted in the Old French for “beating” or “treading down” – it’s set out on the streets in a world of endemic injustice.
On a grey basketball court backed by fences, seven dancers move through expansively flowering phrases, at once propulsive and precise, to the twang of blues guitar. There’s a recurring handcuff motif: one man places another’s hands, crossed at the wrist, behind his back and then lowers him to the ground. It’s not straightforwardly oppressive – there’s an elegiac gentleness to the movement. Bodies mount up and reanimate.
Encounters are charged with guarded energy; touch gives way to flight in the form of split leaps or dogged runs. Sculptural balances betray precariousness as well as formal beauty. This is a work of rare power and conscience.