Review: Kyle Abraham’s Pavement

Okay, so I originally filmed a video as my review for this piece, but it somehow didn’t save or got deleted! It took me forever to try to put what I wanted to say into words, so rather than spend forever trying to re-film, I’m going to do this review as a written post!

Back in November, I was fortunate enough to be invited to go and watch Kyle Abraham’s Pavement at the Sadler’s Wells. As I’ve been buried under a sea of university work, practical assessments and deadlines, I didn’t have a chance to talk about it at the time. However I really want to talk about it now because it’s a piece that had an impact on me.

Pavement was inspired by the film Boyz N the Hood, and first premiered in 2012. It’s inspired by the lives of people growing up in the inner-city neighbourhoods of Pittsburgh.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this piece at first. It was recommended to me by one of my teachers, so I hoped that it would be worth watching, but otherwise didn’t know anything about it. When I arrived at the theatre, I was struck by the openness of the stage- the curtain was already up as the audience came in, and there were no tabs at the side of the stage, which was dressed to look like a basketball court.

Something that I found surprising from the beginning was the use of voice. The level of acting by the dancers in this piece was absolutely phenomenal. The diverse score was supplemented by parts of conversations between different people, as well as a really powerful, desperate monologue by Abraham that continued in blackout.

Pavement tells a story of inequality, struggle, poverty, racism and imbalance of power. However that’s only a part of the story- Abraham doesn’t focus solely on these issues, but gives a rounded picture of everyday life, with characterisations coming through that were realistic and funny. Pavement doesn’t feel like a political statement: it feels to me like a reflection of the truth, exactly how it is- and the truth speaks for itself.

Abraham doesn’t need to make a piece about racism, or about police brutality and killings against young black men- all he needs to do is hold up a mirror. That’s what I really love about Pavement. It’s not an edgy, dark piece- it’s very real, and sometimes the truth is dark. There were parts of this piece that had the audience laughing out loud, and many that bought tears to our eyes. The movement vocabulary is varied, and so is the music, yet everything fit together. Abraham used a lot of contemporary and ballet steps, and in between, very pedestrian movements. Woven into that was a powerful motif of the white men putting the hands of the black men, and at one point the only woman, behind their backs, and putting them face-down to the ground. This ran through the piece, and eventually all the dancers were face-down in a heap upon one another.

The dancing by Abraham.In.Motion was really outstanding. The cast was very small, and they all worked overtime, showing great versatility. They went from using voice, to ballet, then running in circles, and laying still on the floor, and did it seamlessly. However it’s the message of this piece that really stayed with me- the truth that this is the experience for many people living in these neighbourhoods. They experience lack of opportunity, poverty, racism, profiling- and they are still today being targeted and killed by the police.

During the post-show talk, the audience- which was the most racially, age and gender diverse, intelligent and engaged that I have been a part of- had some excellent questions and points, and Abraham and the dancers were very open about their experiences with making this piece. When asked if this piece had anything to do with the #blacklivesmatter movement, the reason this was being brought back in 2017 and if the message was still relevant today, Abraham said, “Well, we are still dying.” That response brought tears to my eyes, and applause from the audience. Because that is really the truth. Abraham has made a piece that confronts that. I think it’s important that anyone who is lucky enough to get to watch this piece doesn’t just leave the auditorium and forget about it. They need to remember that truth and take it with them. Realise that racism and inequality are still issues that need to be talked about and faced, not brushed under the carpet.

Pavement was definitely one of my favourite performances of 2017. Kyle Abraham announced that he would be working more with Sadler’s Wells in the future, so I’m genuinely very excited to see what he will bring to the stage next.

If you’ve seen Pavement or anything else by Abraham.In.Motion, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

Also, keep an eye out for my round-up of all the wonderful performances I got to see in 2017! I hope to be able to see many more in the year ahead.

Until next time,

Jessica x

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