Choreographer Kyle Abraham hasn't yet named the new work he will create while in-residence at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. But the East Liberty venue's new executive director can think of one: "Mission Statement."
"Before I started, this theater functioned primarily as a rented space," says Janera Solomon, who since September has run the nine-decade-old space that became the Kelly-Strayhorn in 1999.
Now, Solomon is redefining the theater to be more involved in what takes place there, presenting events to go along with the rentals. Abraham will be the first artist-in-residence at the Kelly-Strayhorn, culminating in a concert this Saturday.
"There are so many dynamic things happening in the arts scene in Pittsburgh and nationally and connecting audiences to them is our mission."
In Abraham, Solomon found someone who embodies that mission both nationally and locally. Abraham, 31, already is building a body of work based on his own blend of hip-hop-influenced urban solo dancing and his kinetic choreography for his troupe Abraham.in.Motion. He recently was named one of the "25 to Watch" by Dance Magazine, is racking up positive reviews for dancing and directing and is in demand to work with other troupes.
'Kyle Abraham" with Abraham.in.Motion'
Where: Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, East Liberty.
When: 7 p.m. mixer precedes 8 p.m. performance Saturday.
But he is a Pittsburger through and through.
"My heart is in Pittsburgh," he says. "There is a huge pool of creative energy there -- all my favorite things are in Pittsburgh." In fact, Abraham is considering moving his New York-based troupe here, and the residency at the Kelly-Strayhorn is part of that feeling-out process. "All my dancers know what sort of Pittsburgh pride I have."
Abraham grew up in Lincoln-Lemington. While he did his share of hanging with the neighborhood kids, he also got a healthy dose of classical music.
"My parents gave me a piano, and I played cello and French horn," he says. But Abraham's teen years found him much more profoundly out of step with others his age at Schenley High (he graduated in 1995). "I didn't have so many friends my age," says Abraham, who came out at 15. "Most were in college and were in the rave scene."
But despite all the clubbing, he didn't dance seriously until his senior year (he had become engrossed in art, too) when he went part time to Pittsburgh's Creative and Performing Arts High School. He later trained at the Civic Light Opera Academy before studying dance at SUNY Purchase (BFA) and at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts (MFA).
"I think most of my solo work is inspired by my time in Schenley," Abraham says of dances that often examine what it means to be American, black and gay. But his background as a musician also informs his style, which he describes as "hip-hop hybrid with a lot of technical influences that has inspirations from contemporary art and music."
Classical music is an influence, as are the soul records he grew up adoring. His choreography for others often expands on his fascination with recorded live music, such as the MTV "Unplugged" series.
"A choreographer like Kyle, who comes from a hip-hop generation but is classically trained, has implications for modern contemporary dance," says Solomon, 34. In addition to the new work Abraham and his troupe will create, they will perform his new work, "The Dripping Kind," in concert Saturday.
Whether Abraham.in.Motion permanently moves to Pittsburgh, Solomon sees the Kelly-Strayhorn as a space of support for it and similar groups.
"The idea is to find a way to support artists that are incredibly talented but are in a stage in their career that they could use a boost in presenting their work to a broader audience," she says.
"Kyle is a known entity and has been working at his craft for a while but he is still in development and trying to find his audience."
With a $400,000 budget, Solomon has to be cautious on how much presenting the theater can do, but she also feels it is important to "take a stand" and follow a vision.
"This is what presenting is all about," she says, "connecting audiences with an artist we think is worth seeing."