Claude "CJ" Johnson and Tamisha Guy of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham | Credit: Carrie Schneider

It’s been two long years since UCSB Arts & Lectures last presented a dance performance, and, thanks to choreographer Kyle Abraham and the 10 fabulous dancers of A.I.M, Sunday evening’s performance made it seem more than worth the wait. An Untitled Love, the hour-long work they showed, shook the delighted audience to their emotional foundations with a daring, heartfelt, and brilliantly idiomatic celebration of love, suffering, yearning, and bliss.

Set to a mesmerizing soundtrack of bass-heavy soul music by D’Angelo, An Untitled Love takes place in a series of lightly sketched social spaces — the living room at a house party, complete with sofa, and perhaps the street outside, or maybe just the other side of the room. Dancers enter, leave, flirt, and socialize, all without any pretense beyond the natural self-consciousness of people at a private party.

As in D’Angelo’s music, the emphasis is on the vibe, not the hook. That said, there’s a focal point in the relationship between Catherine Kirk and Martell Ruffin. What begins in pastiche/parody of a classic scenario — the woman checking if her suitor is qualified to date her — gradually turns poignant, as movement reveals her need for connection and his agony of loneliness. Ruffin’s brief solo in sidelong half-light delivered a secular sermon’s worth of insight into Black masculinity.

Other highlights included the breathtaking athleticism of Logan Hernandez and the tender comedy and rump-shaking satire of Jae Neal. Early on, a dazzling slow-motion sequence demonstrated Abraham’s sophistication as a choreographer whose art uses naturalism and social dance as a springboard into the furthest reaches of time-stretching abstraction. As a reminder of what we’ve missed and a promise of what’s to come, An Untitled Love could not be more timely.

This edition of ON Culture was originally emailed to subscribers on April 12, 2024. To receive Leslie Dinaberg’s arts newsletter in your inbox on Fridays, sign up at


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