Some would call dancer and choreographer Kyle Abraham a man of contradictions—but to do so, you'd have to believe certain things are mutually exclusive. Like being a young black man with a swagger who's into hiphop but also likes dancing in pink tutus in public.
Abraham's breakout work from a few years ago, performed as a character named "Pookie Jenkins," about sums it up: He walks onstage shirtless, carrying a 40-ounce bottle of booze and wearing that pink tutu. Some women wearing jeans and T-shirts flip him some shit for the way he's dressed, but Pookie is all confidence. A song by Dizzee Rascal—"People gonna respect me/I better make you respect me"—blasts from the speakers while Abraham begins a fast and energetic solo, his spine and limbs undulating with an unusual balance of grace and power. From any dance-vocabulary angle—modern dance, b-boying—it's a solo that demands respect.
Critics talk about hiphop theater and hiphop dance-theater, but artists like Abraham are making that critical frame obsolete, demonstrating that hiphop is an influence, not a cage. In a phone interview about his new piece (Live! The Realest MC, coming to On the Boards this week), he said: "Movementwise, I'm drawing from everything and not really thinking about it. Not 'this is a hiphop phrase' and 'this is a [Merce] Cunningham phrase.'"