A single basketball hoop forms the minimal set for Kyle Abraham’s Pavement, a work for five men and one woman staged last week at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Though the hoop itself never sees any play, a range of scenarios play out beneath it.
Less a narrative than a pastiche of inner city life, Pavement draws together dance, spoken word, video projection, and audio clips to convey the zeitgeist of young black urban culture in the mid-’90s. From the opening scene, a current of racial tension runs through the work: Two black men dance, transposing the idioms of street dance into a syrupy ballet while a white man stalks back and forth between them, pinning their arms behind their backs and taking them to the floor.
Abraham’s got a stellar cast of movers, and he makes good use of them, setting long, lyrical passages to Bach, Vivaldi, and the soaring voices of castrato. Yet he counter-poses this lyricism with harsher samples: sounds of gunshots and screaming children, slamming doors, and squealing tires.
Against the backdrop of the hoop, set designer Dan Scully projects mournful black-and-white images of a decaying metropolis: the window of an abandoned apartment, a treeless lot. In one of the evening’s most riveting scenes, a young man saunters across the stage eating from a giant bag of chips. Upon reaching a fallen friend, he sits, using the inert body as a sofa. Above him, the backdrop displays a slow-motion film of a high-rise being detonated, the detritus raining down.
But if Pavement is in many ways a lament, it simultaneously celebrates the intimacy that’s borne of a shared struggle. In the final arresting image, the dancers arrange themselves in piles, facedown. They could almost be napping.