Review: The Radio Show (Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion and Harbourfront World Stage)

Photo of Kyle Abraham in The Radio Show

A father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s is paired with urban dance in The Radio Show at Toronto’s Harbourfront

The Radio Show, making its Canadian premiere at the Fleck Dance Theatre as part of Harbourfront’s World Stage season, is more than a dynamic piece of contemporary choreography. It’s the exploration through movement of both the individual and collective memory, punctuated by the iconic rhythms of Motown and the fresh beats of hip hop.

The story is largely based on choreographer Kyle Abraham and his days growing up in Pittsburgh, listening to the only two urban music radio stations on air before they were abruptly silenced in 2009, and supporting his father who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the very same time. His work fuses the two events by mirroring the loss of voice of a community with that of Abraham’s father.

There’s something to be said about the power and precision of the dancers in the Abraham.In.Motion Company. A fairly young group of well-studied and well-trained dancers, there was not one of them that didn’t catch my eye. A production built together out of smaller pieces, every dancer is given a moment to command the stage, even as part of a duet or trio. While the base movement vocabulary was steeped in modern and contemporary, the urban styles like popping and vogueing and other street dances weave their way in and out of the sequences. The dancers do wonders with the smaller moments, too, with fast and frenzied combinations that suddenly sputter, stop, tremble, and then move on into fluid lines that reach from fingers through arms into torsos and legs.

I think Abraham does a great job of breaking up the stoic moments and beautifully frantic movements with some humourous touches. The mood of the whole show begins on a light note, with Jeremy Neal boogey woogey-ing down in the audience. Some of the song choices are joyfully upbeat and connect at just the right times to lift ours spirits back up. There’s even some audience participation in the second half, bringing us into the fold with a mock radio call-in show.

Music is as much a character in this piece as the dancers within it, constantly shifting through Motown classics, hard-hitting and lyrical hip hop tones and some recognizable pop numbers. The various artists used are even featured in the program as a sort of soundtrack cast list. The mix is put together as though someone were searching through the radio dial, trying to find those lost stations, experiencing lapses in the frequency where silence or static prevails. And it’s in the static and silence that the movements begin to echo each other, desperately trying to call back and latch onto those hard to reach memories, like the ones Abraham’s father –beautifully embodied by Jeremy Neal –seeks to find, or the ones the once-connected community of radio listeners want to recreate.

I think The Radio Show is an electric display of skill in movement storytelling, one that evokes images in even its quietest moments. I’m really glad I had the opportunity to see this, as the run is unfairly short and who’s to say when Abraham might graciously bring this or another of his works to Canada next.


Photo of Kyle Abraham by Bill H Photography