Sweetheart candies were sprinkled on each table in the intimate, dimly lit Joe’s Pub on Friday evening. Those brightly colored, nauseatingly sugary sweets bring to mind long-forgotten middle school Valentines that could be summed up by the messages on each heart: “Be mine”, “Cutie pie”, “Kiss me”. Fortunately, the evening was not about artificial sweetness. Rather, it tackled heartbreak. And in Heartbreak and Homies, a Valentine-themed show curated by choreographer and dancer Kyle Abraham and produced by DanceNOW [NYC] and Joe’s Pub, heartbreak never hurt so good.
Abraham created several duets and trios showing complex relationships set to songs including Aretha Franklin’s “Day Dreaming”, King Floyd’s “Baby Let Me Kiss You”, and Rachelle Farrell’s “My Funny Valentine”. Dancers in red shorts and windbreakers fell in and out of longing embraces, slowly inched their way into the nook of another’s neck, locked lips, and jumped in sync with one another. Smiles were rare. Heartbreak was not.
But the more powerful, riveting, and achingly beautiful movement came from Abraham’s own solos. To Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine”, his arms quivered uncontrollably before his entire body released a lush river of movement. Abraham is liquid-like, his movement so mesmerizingly fluid that you forget he has a skeleton. His effortless dancing is deeply routed in emotion – and in this case, heartache. At first he looked inward, brow wrinkled and eyes fixed on one point; later, to Sam Cooke’s “Love Me”, he engaged with certain audience members – wrapping his arms around them or gazing intently into their eyes. Filling the hole of lonely heartache – strangers can do that.
Set to Sly and The Family Stone’s “That Kind of Person”, choreographer David Dorfman created a tribute to hippie love, performed by Raja Feather Kelly and Jenna Riegel. They passionately swayed, gyrated, and lifted one another overhead in a duet fraught with bitter-sweetness. Faye Driscoll created and performed in a work in progress with Jesse Zaritt that subtly examined the tension between beauty, power, and desire. Choreographer Alex Escalante was more upfront with his approach to heartache. “I like to wallow,” he told the audience. Seamlessly interspersing spoken and recorded text, he revealed some typical exchanges in a relationship defined by miscommunication. “Repeat yourself so I can understand” became a rhythmic repetition throughout the smartly crafted piece, which included cell phone static that led to him saying, “We’re breaking up…Let’s just break up.”
In the closing piece, an audience member followed Abraham’s movement with a large light that cast him in a faint glow. Spastic shaking shattered moments of controlled calm. His arms reached forward but never firmly took hold of anything, except when he momentarily wrapped them around various people in the audience. This heartache was not so much a spectacle as it was a shared experience. Finding comfort in strangers can be sweet.