Kyle Abraham’s “A.I.M.”
Jul. 17–19
Von der Heyden Studio Theater, Durham

I’ve heard it said that marriage is ultimately little more than two naked people together in an empty room. That is, you bring to the partnership nothing more than yourself, with all the concomitant baggage.

That concept came to mind while I was watching Kyle Abraham’s piece, Dearest Home. Not only because the dancers progressively strip down to their underwear and, in one case, get naked. And not just because the space, a wide white expanse of floor, resembles an empty room. The show is about intimacy, about love and longing and the need we have for others—and the difficulty of attaining and maintaining connection. It’s about how imperfect people come together and apart, imperfectly.

Abraham’s six dancers illustrate this beauty and the difficulty in a number of solos, duets, and trios that cleanly showcase his choreography. There are sudden releases, subtle weight shifts, and lots of lunges. But the performance is about more than just bodies; the dancers repeatedly give themselves away with needy glances, smiles, and sobs of grief.

No one provides that emotional content quite as well as dancer Tamisha Guy. Her lean, articulate technique is a joy to watch, but her sense of dignity and quiet force of personality are almost profound. Her duet with Jae Neal offers the most interesting choreography in the piece, but it’s their chemistry—particularly her watchful waiting and sense of quiet power, a counterpoint to his swaggering uncertainty—that gives it life.

None of the other groupings is quite as compelling as that one, and a couple of the solos fail to really get off the ground. But observing is its own experience. The audience is lines up along the four edges of the stage, and when the stage lights are up—as they often are throughout the piece—there’s little sense of remove from what’s going on onstage.

ADF staff handed out headsets before the performance, and the audience had the option of listening to music or watching in silence. I put the earbuds in, and my experience of the performance was modulated by an electronic score. But my companion didn’t, and she said she could hear the dancers’ footsteps and breathing as well as her own. Now I wish I’d done that, too, even if then it might’ve been too much, almost unbearably intimate.