Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M brings ‘Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song’ to San Diego

Caherine Kirk of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham performs "Our Indigo: If We Were Love a Love Song."
Caherine Kirk of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham performs “Our Indigo: If We Were Love a Love Song.”
(Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

In Kyle Abraham’s movement vocabulary, certain words are in regular rotation.

Purpose. Intention. Fearlessness.

All are streams of thought that inhabit choreography meant to explore themes of history, identity and Black culture.

As artistic director of A.I.M (Abraham in Motion), the dancemaker is known for blending the elegance of classical ballet, the athleticism of hip-hop and the animated expressions of jazz, West African and contemporary dance.

Besides creating works for companies such as the New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet in London and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Abraham teaches. In 2021, he was named the Claude and Alfred Mann Endowed Professor of Dance at the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham company dancers  perform Keerati Jinakunwiphat's "Big Rings."
A.I.M by Kyle Abraham company dancers Jae Neal, foreground, and Claude “CJ” Johnson perform Keerati Jinakunwiphat’s “Big Rings.”
(Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

A recent contribution to his repertory is a touring production of “Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song,” a collection of solos, duets and group performances set to the recordings of the late singer and pianist, Nina Simone. That piece will be on the program of a dance concert Wednesday at the Balboa Theatre.

“I grew up listening to her music at different periods in life,” said Abraham, who is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (2013), a Doris Duke Artist Award (2016) and a Princess Grace Statue Award (2018).

“I was drawn to her music. There is one group section, ‘Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair.’ I like to think that it represents a lot of aspects of love of Black culture and history. Her lyrics and delivery connected with me. I like that raw, emotional music.”

Last year, in collaboration with filmmaker Dehanza Rogers, a few of the works from “If We Were a Love Song” were featured in a New York Emmy-nominated film as part of the ALL ARTS’ Past, Present, Future festival, a program created by The WNET Group, the community-supported home of New York’s PBS stations.

The suite expresses different states of love, from passion to heartbreak.

“In the dance titled, “Images,” for instance, Simone’s quivering vibrato and elongated phrases express the somber lyrics:

She does not know her beauty.

She thinks her brown body has no glory.

If she could dance naked under palm trees and see her image in the river, she would know.

There are no palm trees on her street and dishwater gives back no images.

As Simone sings, soloist Catherine Kirk, a striking, Black dancer, responds with languid gestures to express a kind of sad curiosity about her physical being.

“Our Indigo: If We Were a Love Song,” is part of the Balboa Theatre program that also includes “Show Pony,” an energetic solo danced by Tamisha A. Guy, and “The Quiet Dance,” a contemplative dance set to Bill Evans’ version of the Leonard Bernstein classic “Some Other Time.”

The company will perform works by other choreographers, as well, an effort that inspires dancers with “different tools and approaches.”

“Big Rings,” a group work created by Thai American company dancer Keerati Jinakunwiphat, opens the show.

And there’s a solo titled “Rain,” by New York-based choreographer Bebe Miller.

“I think there are so many great things to consider with this idea of having outside choreographers to create works for the company,” Abraham said.

“It creates more opportunities for more voices. It also connects to the idea around legacy and makes space for choreographers like Bebe Miller, who I’ve been inspired by for many years. Keerati is one of my favorite choreographers. I saw a work of hers in 2017 and I was blown away by her distinct and unique voice. I just loved the way she approached partnering, and the fearlessness and athleticism in her work.”

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham dancers perform "Big Rings."
A.I.M by Kyle Abraham dancers perform choreographer Keerati Jinakunwiphat’s “Big Rings.”
(Courtesy of Christopher Duggan)

Jinakunwiphat, a 29-year-old Chicago native, became a full-time A.I.M dancer in 2018, and three years later, she was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.”

She is the first of her colleagues to debut her creation, “Big Rings,” on the company, and earlier this month, she became the first Asian American woman to set work on the New York City Ballet.

She said her first name, Keerati, translates to “honorable” and on her Instagram page, she’s known as “thekeeratikid.”

In Wednesday’s program, Jinakunwiphat dances a solo in Abraham’s poignant “Wild is the Wind.”

She said that he encourages the development of self-expression.

“The challenge with that solo is the vulnerability,” Jinakunwiphat said. “In a solo, you are on stage alone and there is nowhere to hide. As Kyle would say, it’s how you would dance if you were alone in your room and you are dancing by yourself, which is a gift.”

Jinakunwiphat’s “Big Rings” is a celebratory number performed by six dancers and accompanied by a musical mix that ranges from works by Camille Saint-Saëns to Chance the Rapper.

The theme is sportsmanship. Big rings is a reference to winning championship rings and it is, in a word, fun.

The choreography was created for the company in 2019 and the dancers, wearing athletic clothing, present as a spirited team that segues from hip-hop swaggering to fluid extensions and floor work.

Now that Jinakunwiphat has accomplished a number of “firsts,” what’s next?

“I want to make people proud,” she said. “I’m knowing more of who I am. I’m just grateful.”

ArtPower UCSD presents Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Balboa Theatre, 868 Fourth Ave., San Diego

Tickets: $25.50-$55.50

Phone: (858) 534-1430


Luttrell is a freelance writer.