Kyle Abraham’s Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth review — dance marries Mozart and mourning

Mozart is catnip to choreographers who cannot resist his dansante melodies and measures, but his music can evade attempts to supplement or ornament it, shrugging off the steps, the scores complete in themselves. Even George Balanchine, so musically accomplished he read orchestral scores in bed, only tried twice (both times, brilliantly, to divertimento No 15). Frederick Ashton made only one attempt (to Les Petits riens) and Kenneth MacMillan kept well clear. New York-based dancemaker Kyle Abraham has no such reservations and his Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth had its UK premiere at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday, danced by his 16-year-old company, AIM (short for Abraham in Motion).

Created piecemeal, often via Zoom, during 2021, the 10-person work boldly takes its inspiration from the unfinished Requirement in D minor (K626) written in 1791, the year of the composer’s death. The original score has been shredded, sampled and overwritten by electronic dance music composer Jlin (née Jerrilynn Patton). Jlin’s remix cuts in and out of the Requiem like someone trying to find Classic FM on a dodgy car radio but emollient passages of Mozart punctuate her own writing. The result fuels 60 minutes of dance that borrows freely from a variety of disciplines — ballet, hip-hop, capoeira — to explore “ritual, mourning and rebirth”.

The stage looks handsome. Dan Scully’s set is backed by an elegant, almost Art Deco grid of copper-coloured rods and a few prismatic neon lights, one of which encircles a video screen showing projections of abstract organic images that pulsate unnervingly — like waiting for the bad news in a scanning unit. The final videos feature black feet on bare earth, tantalizing vintage TV clips, a drowned man and a christening, which pull focus but do not really enlighten. A steady but unobtrusive haze gives substance to the cones of down- and sidelight.

AIM’s members vary considerably in size and shape but the costumes, by British fashion designer Giles Deacon, opt to celebrate rather than mask these differences. The 10 dancers (five male, five female) are dressed in floaty painted silk frocks accessorised with muffs, peplums and, in one case, a wobbly high-waisted tutu (Catherine Kirk seems to have drawn the short straw at the final fitting).

Duets, trios and ensembles wash back and forth across the space, allowing the performers to pace themselves over the long 60 minutes. Abraham’s polyglot dancemaking borrows freely from the classical vocabulary but the familiar steps are delivered with meaty insouciance by Donovan Reed with rock-solid balances, a freewheeling pirouette and saucy changes of register — lordly one moment; high camp the next.

Martell Ruffin’s quicksilver solo in the last 15 minutes is well worth the wait, showcasing his own skill and Abraham’s flair for cross-fertilisation — gargouillade anyone? These idiosyncratic talents and the stylistic variety consistently beguile the eye but the lack of structure and focus means that the promised themes — grief, ritual, BLM etc — never materialise.

To June 1, sadlerswells.com

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