This year, the Northern Michigan festival brings back some favorites (Jackson Browne, the Capitol Steps), artists that haven’t performed there in many years (Huey Lewis, the King’s Singers), and first-timers such as Sarah Jarosz and Kyle Abraham’s dance troupe Abraham.In.Motion, which is set to perform Friday, July 8.
MyNorth Entertainment writer Ross Boissoneau talks with dancer Matthew Baker, a native of Ann Arbor and a member of Abraham.In.Motion, about the troupe.
What attracted you to dance? How long have you been dancing?
“Different things attracted me and re-attracted me to dance at various points in my life. Earliest, gymnastics connected me with dance. I was a very energetic and active kid, and my parents put me in gymnastics. I loved it.
“As I got more serious my coaches recommended I take some dance classes to work on my poor flexibility and somewhat haphazard/accident-prone developing body. I took to dance as another movement challenge and I liked those. I started in ballet about age 8 until about 13 when I quit dancing during the difficult late middle school/early high school years.
“As I become more comfortable with myself and less concerned with others, I found my way back to art in choir and theatre and eventually to dance again as well. In college, my eyes and mind were opened to the world of modern and contemporary dance, and I felt I had found an art form I really connected with.”
What attracted you to Abraham.In.Motion?
“It was something new and different and outside of my comfort zone while still being in my area of interest. I was working for another contemporary dance company at the time, Keigwin + Company, which I had been a part of for 4+ years. I was looking for ways to keep myself growing, interested, and well supported.”
What do you bring to AIM?
“I’m the type of person that when I’m involved in something I want to put my two cents in. I think I have a mind towards creative and artistic tasks as well as organization and structure; I get excited at the combination and I want to speak up and contribute. Kyle has encouraged that part of my voice and fostered it into a role to help me develop, and help him and the company.”
I’ve read where dancers each take on non-artistic roles in the company in such areas as fundraising or education. What areas do you participate in? How does that work with your responsibilities in dance? How do you think the other responsibilities impact your work as a dancer, and vice versa?
“My title is Choreographic Associate. Basically that means I help Kyle get things done when it comes to both the work that he is creating and maintaining the work the company already does. I take into account what he wants to accomplish and I help create our schedule from that. I estimate how long it will take us to do things, and I make plans for how those things will happen. It folds into my responsibilities as a dancer because it forces me to be extremely familiar with our work, and often times with things that I’m not specifically doing.
“Doing so gives me a rich understanding of the work as a whole and what Kyle’s hoping to accomplish. It’s challenging to both see the big picture and be very specific at the same time both with myself and with others. Knowing when to do which is a big part of my job.”
Do you often perform to live music? How does that impact the performance?
“We rarely get to perform to live music, but we have done some recently. Last year at the Joyce, a hub for dance In New York, we premiered a program to entirely live music. That program we mostly continue to perform to recorded versions, but a few venues where the scheduling and means were in line, we’ll bring the live music version. It’s a treat for us and hopefully for the audiences.”
How would you define the style of AIM?
“It’s really a gumbo of styles all mixed up to make its own completely unique and idiosyncratic style. He’s inspired by both more classical techniques like Graham, Cunningham and ballet, as well as a slew of other more contemporary qualities and styles. Both a formal dance setting like Doug Varone, for example, as well as social or cultural dance styles you’d see in life outside the proscenium, like breaking, waving, popping, African. All of these things find their way into the work or are referenced. Combining them, shifting between them at high speeds, mixed with quirky movement entirely his own, keeps the movement referential and inspired by, rather than derivative.”
What’s the best thing about a performance for you? For the audience?
“Performing is like a kind of therapy. Lots of questions come up from inside. Asking and answering them, dealing with, getting through, and accomplishing the given tasks and goals ends up being a very personal exploration. For the audience it’s a chance to be transported. That’s what excites me about seeing work. A lot of times there’s an opportunity to see themselves or someone they know or something they’re feeling represented in art. That can be an exciting and sometimes very important experience.”
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