An Unfinished Love

Choreography: Kyle Abraham* in collaboration with A.I.M

Music: D’Angelo & The Vanguard

Philadelphia Film Center

(photo: courtesy Philadelphia FringeArts Festival)

 Anita Baker’s 90s hit ‘Sweet Love’ was the tune that set the mood for the almost full house at the PFC Theater for the final performance of choreographer Kyle Abraham’s 2021 dance work ‘An Unfinished Love’ at the 2022 Philadelphia Fringe Festival

Abraham started developing the piece in late 2019 and had to wait out the pandemic shutdowns, before bringing to the stage. ‘An Unfinished Love’ was a hit both at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, and Jacob’s Pillow and was a curated event at FringeArts and the show continues on tour across the US.

The piece was inspired by the choreographer’s memories of his parent’s house parties with family and friends, which Abraham chose to soundtrack with the neo soul of D’Angelo and The Vanguard, from the day and especially from the nights.

The set that includes a plush red sofa, end table fern, abstract art & graffiti on the back wall created by Joe Buckingham (whose art for De la Soul albums) and the intimate lighting design by Dan Scully complete the intimate stage pictures. All backdrop for Abraham’s dance-theater comic drama ignited by such D’Angelo classics as ‘Betray My Heart;’ ‘Prayer’ and of course ‘Untitled (How Do I Feel). The choreography just flows, and the music expertly mixed by sound editor Sam Crawford.

The ensemble cast of dancers-actors- Jamaal Bowman, Tamisha A. Guy*, Keerati Jinakunwiphat, Claude “CJ” Johnson, Catherine Kirk, Jae Neal, Donovan Reed, Martell Ruffin, Dymon Samara, Gianna Theodore – all build dimensional characters. The costumes by Abraham and Karen Young casually reveal much about their dance characters.

Abraham’s choreography seamlessly blends elements of ballet/modern, jazz, jive, a dash of B’way, and Vogue ballroom. Abraham’s mosaic is a warm, witty homage to Black social dances past & present- Savoy swing, tap lines, break moves, capoeira flips and laced with balletic aerials, turn variations and arabesques solos that keep moving. And a breezy basso nova tango danced by Tamisha A. Guy and Claude “CJ” Johnson.

The dancers have moments of humorous party dialogue Catherine Kirk’s character Tina mocks Richard, who (Martel Ruffin) sweaty pickup lines. Some of the partiers on the couch gossip about people gossiping. Duos and trio suddenly start to dance, picking up a thread in the music with club moves.

Four partiers are seated on the couch and launch into a series of unison nods, hand dances, leg positions that speak volumes of choreography shade. Just as the party is in full swing Abraham inserts a raucous ensemble scene of dancing and party mingling all in mesmerizing Butoh-esque slow motion.

Catherine Kirk in an elegant pewter jumper and she hypnotizes in her solos and the song central duet with Martel Ruffin. Their dance characters, Tina, and Richard whose pickup lines are getting him nowhere, but they do drift offstage and come back adjusting their clothing, so maybe Tina gave him a test run. Abraham’s choreography conveys sexual desire but emotional vulnerability, it is the central duet to ‘Untitled (How Do I Feel) THE song among D’Angelo fans. This audience swooned as well.

Jae Neal has the most fun with their dance partners and flirting and Donovan Reed with affectionate demands . Neal has a Vogue master duck walk Vogue moment, and then a spasm that has him pitched on the floor as Reed cradles his body. Abraham’s alludes to the 90s era of AIDS devastation in the gay black community. Abraham also commenting on the gun violence against Black men in his works, as an intolerable reality in this era.

This was Abraham’s love letter to Black culture past and present, as well as an affirmation of community. And the private power of loving the one you are with all your heart and soul. And do we ever need to be reminded of that now, no? Cue music!

Abraham is one of the most in demand choreographer in the world, his accolades include the prestigious Princess Grace Award, the 2013 McArthur Fellowship and just this year is also an honoree of the 2022 Dance Magazine Awardee in recognition of their lasting impact on the field.

 Choreographer Kyle Abraham introducing his dancers after their closing night performance at Philly FringeArts 2022 Festival (photo LJW)