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Evocative show, When the Wolves Came In, at OZ Nashville

An award-winning choreographer brings a meaningful modern performance to OZ Arts Nashville.

Written By:  Jennifer Farrar

Photographers:  Supplied

For his standalone repertory work, When the Wolves Came In, Pittsburgh-born choreographer Kyle Abraham drew inspiration from a pivotal 1960s jazz album, We Insist: Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. The performance, which premiered in 2014, pays homage to the civil rights movements in both the United States and South Africa and references sit-ins as well as the struggle for freedom.

As a “black, gay, American man,” Abraham writes in his director’s note, he set out to create a program “to live in a skin well aware of the cyclical hardships of our history, and the very present fear of an unknowable future.” By interpreting that moment in history through modern dance and hip-hop, he’s created a generationally impactful performance that also remains mindful of the limitations that come with living in present-day society.

The suite comprises three individual pieces that vary significantly in both choreography and music: When the Wolves Came In, Hallowed, and The Gettin’.  

“In the first work, questions of identity are explored through a contradiction of movement styles—from elegant ballet postures to street dance and pedestrian motion,” Snelling says. “In Hallowed, the choreography shifts to very specific head, hand, and arm movements suggesting courage and determination from the trio of dancers. And in The Gettin', we see the ensemble performing with super-athleticism in fast-paced sequences, including a passionate duet of confrontation and ending with a lone dancer in solemnity.”

As for the music, each piece emulates a different emotion throughout the show. For When the Wolves Came In, the most formal of the three pieces, acclaimed American contemporary composer Nico Muhly contributed the tunes, while Hallowed is performed to civil rights–era spiritual hymns. The Gettin’ was created in collaboration with Grammy-winning jazz musician Robert Glasper, who interpreted the Max Roach album and provided original music.

“The dancers’ interactions, in these three distinct pieces, are both complex and beautifully painted together in ways that are rarely witnessed,” says Lauren Snelling, artistic director at OZ. “It’s clear that Abraham creates evocative works and that he values referencing historical significance with a contemporary aesthetic.”

Showing October 8 and 9 at OZ Arts Nashville. 
6172 Cockrill Bend Cir., 615-350-7200;
ozartsnashville.org
Photos by Tim Barden

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