This weekend, a New York dance company is bringing one of this season's most interesting and racially charged dance numbers to Portland. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, New York choreographer Kyle Abraham's "Absent Matter" mixes Kendrick Lamar and Drake with live jazz and archival footage of protests, part of Abraham.In.Motion at the Newmark Theatre.
For Tamisha Guy, one of the principal dancers, the show reflects real life. "It's super-personal," Guy says. "You don't have to dig in the dust pile to find images of [Black Lives Matter], you just turn on the news."
Guy has been dancing since a talent scout from Manhattan's Ballet Tech discovered her in middle school, shortly after the Trinidad native immigrated with her family to New York City.
Talent scouts marched the students into the gym, and told them to jump. "They point your feet; they look at you; they ask you to make arm movements," Guy says.
When the Ballet Tech scout discovered Guy, she was still reeling from her family's relocation. Dancing was the outlet that finally helped her acclimate to America.
"In Trinidad, we didn't have this kind of black/white," she says. "There, you have other issues. Once I moved to New York, this is something I had to choose to continue living in. It still feels surreal."
The Martha Graham Dance Company accepted Guy one month after she graduated from State University of New York at Purchase, and during her first three-month break from touring, Abraham swooped in. "I went into rehearsals [with Abraham] and just never left," Guy says.
Someday she'll go back to Trinidad. "When I'm old," she says. This is prime time for a 25-year-old contemporary dancer in New York City, especially in a company that thrives on activism and Drake. "It's a tough program for me to get through, physically too," Guy says. "What helps is the other dancers onstage, seeing their eyes and knowing we're in it together."
The dance, like the Black Lives Matter movement, finds strength in collaboration. When Abraham brings his playlist of D'Angelo and Kanye into the studio, he asks for his dancers' input.
"There are companies where you're given steps, and just have to do those," Guy says. "This one is different." And she isn't down with someone just telling her to jump.
See it: Abraham.In.Motion is at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 800-380-3516. 8 pm Thursday-Saturday, March 10-12. $25-$34.