Kyle Abraham: The dance world put me in a box because of my skin colour 

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Kyle Abraham is talking about gang violence in Pittsburgh in the Nineties. "My neighbourhood was the Crips at that time but where my school was, was the Bloods," he says. "So there was conflict. Everything that was depicted in John Singleton's film Boyz n the Hood, you'd see in Pittsburgh." Singleton's Oscar-nominated film, the story of ordinary young men tragically caught up in gun violence in LA, resonated with a teenage Abraham. His own story, though, is not one about a boy from the street made good. Abraham grew up in a loving and supportive working family, playing the cello and piano and taking painting classes. But as a teenager, gang conflict and the vulnerability of young black lives was just a fact of growing up in urban 20th- century America. It is why, two decades later, the choreographer decided to make a dance work, Pavement, inspired by Boyz n the Hood. Revisiting his old neighbourhood, seeing the crumbling buildings and the lack of positive reconstruction, he felt that little had changed. "I guess there has been some upward mobility but we're constantly reminded of 'our' place," says Abraham. "It's a continuous and huge fight for equality. I think there has been certain progress but I'm still not safe, by any means. "What's happening in the current climate, in Charlottesville in particular, it's nothing new," he says. "Maybe it's shocking for more progressive white folks who voted against Trump. Maybe they [the far-Right] are shouting louder, with their masks off, than they may have done with a different president in office. But that racism is systemic. It hasn't really gone anywhere at all." I would just move and it felt so freeing, and this was before I even knew what a pointe shoe or tights were We are talking in a blandly smart hotel lobby near City Airport. Abraham has just flown in to London from Amsterdam, where he's on an epic holiday celebrating his 40th birthday that has also taken in the Venice Biennale and a trip to Paisley Park in Minneapolis (he's a huge Prince fan). He is smiling-eyed, good-humoured and giggling but he reflects seriously on the themes that informed the making of Pavement. It's a work, he says, that is about the question of freedom. It features audio excerpts from Boyz n the Hood as well as opera and soul music. "One of the songs in the show is Donny Hathaway's Someday We'll All Be Free," he says, but he purposefully doesn't let the song play in its entirety because this is not a piece about resolution. "There's still more work to be done," says Abraham. "They say we're free but are we really? We're not there yet but it's a possibility." Pavement has some striking images: people taking each other down to the floor - a white man taking down a black man, a black man taking down another - and bodies piled up together on the stage. And there is choreography that sees elements of contemporary dance, hip hop and ballet blending in a way that feels completely natural. Club king: Kyle Abraham's style started on the dance floors of Pittsburgh Abraham seems to have a knack for making graceful, skilful, virtuosic movement, while doing away with some of dance's artifice to bring a certain sense of realism to the stage. "I've said to my dancers since we first started working together, 'Do it like a construction worker'," he says. "If you were a construction worker, how would you reach for something? How would you stand up? If you're lying down, why are your feet pointed? Do you point your feet when you sleep?!" Abraham's mix of styles, a "post-modern gumbo", as he calls it, and his talent for the uncontrived is a result of his own eclectic dance training, which started, unofficially, on the dance floors of Pittsburgh nightclubs. "I was a big rave kid," he says. "From an early age, 14 or 15, I was going out to clubs. My parents were OK with that, they'd pick me up at 3am. I would just move and it felt so freeing, and this was before I even knew what a pointe shoe or tights were." At 16, his friends - knowing his dancefloor prowess - encouraged him to audition for a school musical and he was cast as a dancer. "I just loved it," he says, "and started absorbing everything we were doing." His school gave him a scholarship to take dance classes over the summer, and he went on to study dance at New York's Purchase college, but his formative years going to hip hop parties and clubs were just as important in honing his choreographic style as his dance-school training. Virtuosic movement: Abraham on stage Abraham didn't immediately commit to dance. In the early 2000s he came to London for a year to be a singer. "I was like, nobody knows me, I'll just do it," he says. He lived all over the city, in Harlesden, Elephant & Castle, Kensington, Brixton, Woolwich, going to open mics and recording a couple of R'n'B tracks with a friend. How did it go, I ask. "It was... humbling!" he laughs. He was drawn back to dance, and performed for the likes of David Dorfman and Bill T Jones, but he always planned to make his own work and set up his company, Abraham.In.Motion, in 2006. He received a MacArthur "Genius Grant", and is now successful enough that his is one of the few New York companies that employs salaried dancers, with healthcare plans (a rarity in the US). Abraham has found freedom in his work but has seen racial politics at play in the dance world, sometimes unwittingly. At college he was told "You're such an Ailey dancer", referring to pioneering black choreographer Alvin Ailey. This despite the fact that Ailey dancers at the time were all lithe and ultra-bendy balletic dancers while Abraham is self-confessedly unflexible with feet that don't point. "They were putting me in this box because of this skin colour," he says. When it came to auditions he was always aware: "Has this company ever hired another black dancer? If they have one black male dancer, they may never have a black female dancer, let alone two black men at the same time." Even if it is not intentional policy, it is certainly political, he says. "At a certain point you have to think things are purposeful," he says. "When some companies don't have black dancers I'm like, is this to show a certain white aesthetic? You're trying to show us Pleasantville? There's something underlyingly racist there." He does think artists such as himself can encourage social change. "You never know who's going to be in the audience and how the work may affect them," he says, "or be in the back of their mind when they're faced with a certain situation in life. If people are invited to the conversation we can definitely make change, I hope." There are real issues at play in Abraham's work but there's artistic subtlety too. "I'd like to think that the work probes questions," he says, "but questions that people are comfortable enough to ask. As Dorfman used to say, you need to invite people before you indict them." Pavement is at Sadler's Wells, EC1 (020 7863 8000, sadlerswells.com), November 17-18... read more
 
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New surge in terror cases as Jihadis flood back to UK from Syria 

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Prosecutors today announced a major drive to recruit terrorism lawyers, warning of a surge in cases involving Islamist and far-Right extremists. Sue Hemming, the Crown Prosecution Service's head of counter-terrorism, said her team had doubled in size to cope with "cases emerging from Syria" and the rise of Islamic State, as well as the recent attacks here. But she said even more lawyers were required. In a speech in London, Ms Hemming also delivered a veiled rebuff to the Government's terror watchdog, Max Hill QC. As the Standard reported yesterday, he said it would be best if no specialist terrorism laws were needed, with suspects instead prosecuted using ordinary criminal law. Read more UK's terror czar says: DON'T jail hate preachers Ms Hemming said: "We must recognise that specific counter-terrorism powers are necessary, and acting early to safeguard public safety means that traditional investigative powers are not always sufficient. Prosecutors need offences available to prosecute those who rightly need to be brought to justice, where traditional criminal offences do not fit conduct that rightly calls for punishment. "We use offences such as murder, conspiracy to murder, explosive substances or incitement to hatred, but in many cases conduct needs to be prosecuted using the wide range of terrorism offences available to us. "These include acts preparatory to terrorism, attending terrorist training, support for a proscribed organisation and distribution of terrorist material." She added that even when "we charge using ordinary criminal offences, we do so as a 'terrorist connection'" because that allowed judges to impose stronger sentences. Ms Hemming's most striking comments, however, were about the demands placed on prosecutors by the "substantial increase" in terrorism cases. Terrorism-related arrests hit a record of 304 in the year to the end of March, up 18 per cent on the previous 12 months. There had also been a 55 per cent increase in terrorism trials in the past year, with an 86 per cent conviction rate. Speaking at the National Security Summit, Ms Hemming said: "Much of the increase has been from [Islamic State] or similarly inspired activity, but we have also seen an increase in extreme Right-wing activity. "We have doubled the size of our team and we are still growing; we have a recruitment campaign for more prosecutors being launched shortly to help us deal with further increases." Ms Hemming also gave an insight into the scale of social media evidence being gathered to bring terrorists to justice. She said that "most, if not all, cases involve substantial amounts of digital material and this has been growing significantly over the last few years". She added: "The average terrorist case has around four terabytes of material - the more significant ones have over 10 terabytes and the biggest ones, well in excess of 20. "To give you some concept of quantity, you would need about 125 empty iPads with no apps or content to store four terabytes of material." Her comments follow the disclosure by Met Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the country's top counter-terrorism officer, that police have used social media and other digital evidence to prepare prosecutions against many of the British terrorist fighters abroad. Last week, Mr Hill suggested some returning Islamic State fighters should be reintegrated into society, rather than prosecuted, as they were "naive". Mr Rowley said it had so far not been possible to gather enough material to charge all returning fighters. Today, he told the summit greater co-operation was needed from tech firms, which should follow the example of banks. He said: "The relationship with the social media sector is positive... but they are not always as enthusiastic about tipping us off when they spot somebody of concern. If we don't tackle that then the ungoverned overseas - those parts of countries that are in a parlous state as we have seen in Syria and northern Iraq - those ungoverned locations can be connected to our communities through the online world."... read more
 
25. lokakuuta 2017 16:48:00 Categories: Evening Standard
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