A man approaches, almost near enough to touch. He’s wearing next to nothing, and you can tell he’s upset by the stricken look on his face and the way he thrashes in fits and starts. Soon enough, he breaks into sobs. How does that make you feel?
This question confronts every viewer of Kyle Abraham’s “Dearest Home.” At the Kitchen, where this 90-minute dance had its New York debut last week as the final entry in the Lumberyard in the City festival, audience members sit on all sides of the dance floor, close to the action. It isn’t long before the crying starts.
Emotional pain isn’t new to Mr. Abraham’s work. But much of the choreography that has earned him awards and accolades — for his company, Abraham.In.Motion, and for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater — has situated that pain in charged subject matter: the besieged vulnerability of urban youth, police brutality, the civil rights struggle, mass incarceration.
“Dearest Home” strips away those contexts — and much else. The six supple, unaffected dancers regularly strip down to their underwear, or further. And music, which Mr. Abraham customarily uses to specify feelings and associations, is gone, too, or at least optional: Audience members can listen through headphones to a score by Jerome Begin, which the dancers cannot hear. Mr. Abraham has said that the work was created in silence, and that’s how I chose to experience it.
So, what is a Kyle Abraham dance without music and a political frame? It’s almost all pain, an elemental pain, the pain of being separate from others. The dancers embrace then recoil from one another’s touch so often that this action-reaction sequence comes to feel inevitable, and like a fixation of the choreographer, a scab he keeps picking. “Dearest Home” is an intimate work about the difficulty of intimacy.
It’s a subject that seems built into Mr. Abraham’s style, or is perhaps that style’s source. His is a defended body language in which elbows stick close to ribs and the impulse to expand, to open up and reach out, bursts forth like air escaping; the torso attempts loop-the-loops, but is always choked off, arrested, before it goes too far.
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