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Dance Review

Choreographers bring spirit, softness

By Janine Parker
Globe Correspondent / August 27, 2011

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BECKET - The young choreographers Camille A. Brown and Kyle Abraham, whose companies are sharing a double bill at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, end the evening with a duet, “How We Process,’’ created for the occasion. It’s fascinating to see them side by side. Brown, with her condensed physicality and spirited attack, seems to pierce her way into space. Abraham, his musculature bigger but more rounded, often dances with a tactile softness; space seems to meet and enfold him.

In Brown’s three works on the program, the breadth of her storytelling ability is striking. Even in the brief opener, “Been There Done That,’’ a funny and sassy duet for Brown and Juel D. Lane, she packs in a narrative.

“City of Rain,’’ conversely, is a somberly beautiful study of grief, a dance that also “says’’ a lot but in this case relies only on the dance and Jonathan Melville Pratt’s composition of tensely-building strings. Though Brown and five dancers often seem caught up in their private struggles - one dancer may be reaching up with beseeching arms while another moves agitatedly and another crumples, slow-motion - “City’’ remains of a piece, and a superbly-crafted one at that. Just at the end, as the lights are dimming, the six finally all lean and curve in unison; their breath seems to slow as their community rebuilds.

Abraham’s gorgeously poignant “The Quiet Dance’’ also touches upon loss, and the two pieces work beautifully as companions. “The Quiet Dance’’ also serves as a vehicle to show off Abraham’s terrific, distinctive dancers.

Both Brown and Abraham unveiled excerpts of longer works in progress. “Mr. ToL E. RAncE,’’ Brown’s dance exploring the first African-American performers on Broadway, has the beginnings of potentially great theater: funny and strange animation, a striking use of drops and scrims, and moments of compelling dance. Abraham’s “Live! The Realest MC,’’ is an abstract, modern-day take on the Pinocchio tale, and the excerpts shown here are a tour de force of movement and unsettling bursts of fear.

Abraham is something of an emotional chameleon. His stage persona often appears as a street-smart dude who sports a tough armor, but we recognize it to be a shield for vulnerability. Frequently he or his dancers burst unexpectedly from near-stupors into storms of turns or jumps, as if no longer able to stay coiled within. Watched carefully, Abraham’s group choreography displays an intensely naked understanding of humanity; watching Abraham dance alone is deeply moving.

Janine Parker can be reached at parkerzab@hotmail.com.

KYLE AND CAMILLE At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, Thursday (through tomorrow). Tickets: $34.50-$37.50. 413-243-0745, www.jacobspillow.org