Inspired to Dance by Kara Walker: An Interview with Kyle Abraham


Emerging choreographer Kyle Abraham is performing two pieces this week at the Dance Theatre Workshop in New York (Dec. 3-6 at 7:30pm). One of the works, a solo piece entitled Brick, blends this signature style (a blend of athleticism and hip-hop) with influences from American visual artist Kara Walker (Season 2) and 17th-century Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu. I caught up with Abraham to talk about Kara Walker.

HV: What is it about Kara Walker that inspires you?

Kyle Abraham: I am inspired by how she is able to create such provocative situational environments in her work with a willingness to evoke anger, laughter, and a whole swelling of emotions from using what might be looked at as her signature paper cut-out approach. Seemingly simple in its nostalgic cut-out form, her work deals with historic references, representation, and stereotypical content that make me reflect on my position in life…and more so in this country, as a gay black American man who grew up in an urban environment marginalized by race, poverty and sexual orientation.

HV: What do you feel when you experience Kara Walker’s work?

KA: I experience a sense of history and frustration at times. It’s easy for me to see her work and draw connections from the historical references to today’s times. A great example of that is her After the Deluge book, which juxtaposed her work with that of American painters of the 1800’s in a way that easily draws connections to Hurricane Katrina.

HV: How do you translate those feelings into dance and what are the biggest obstacles? Also, is this your first time attempting such a fine art/dance translation?

KA: I am often inspired by artists of all media. I spent a good chunk of time working as an artist educator for the Andy Warhol Museum after leaving the New York dance scene in 2001. During that time, I was given the opportunity to create several works inspired solely by image-based sources. I guess I haven’t stopped.

I think the same great thing can be said about dance as it can about the visual arts…I want my work to have an individual effect. It’s not imperative that people walk away seeing or feeling the same thing. Art, in all forms to me, is about evoking something…either with in yourself or within those who stumble upon your vision.

My solo work has often dealt with racial stereotypes and gender in a way that uses what I like to say is a physical manifestation behind a message that I think Kara Walker and I might share.