“Oh, so y’all fine, fine!” That was my initial thought when dancers Tamisha A. Guy and Claude “CJ” Johnson graced the opening living room scene of the world premiere of “An Untitled Love,” performed by A.I.M by Kyle Abraham at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Thursday. Upon witnessing the duet's endearing chemistry, it’s difficult to not be flooded with nostalgia for the various loves of your lifetime: on a dance floor, on a subway, at a house party or on a college campus. For founding artistic director Kyle Abraham, “An Untitled Love” was not just a celebration of romance but of the many ways in which we experience love. It reflected the love Abraham has for his family, for our spectrum of Blackness, for HBCUs and for the musical brilliance that is D’Angelo.
Vivid vignettes highlighting couples, singles and friends progressed like your favorite '90s sitcom. There was an easy attraction to the humans that moved us in “An Untitled Love.” We were humored with dancer Jae Neal, who both yearned for and hated on love with grand gestures, athletic strength and raw entertainment. We were inspired by the fluidity and care displayed by Guy and Johnson’s duet to D’Angelo’s “Really Love” — how their bodies were in conversation like the bass and the guitar in the song — and we were tickled by dancer Catherine Kirk’s list of demands for her ideal man, yet fascinated by her standards and the sense of satisfaction she carried in her body as she graced the stage with elasticity and ease, glistening in her platinum jumpsuit (designed by costume designer Karen Young) and giving us a sense that the movement was first for her. And to witness it, we were blessed.
A stand out piece was set to D’Angelo’s greatest hit on his Voodoo album, “Untitled(How Does It Feel)?” Similar to D’Angelo’s provocative video, I was aroused by Kirk and Martell Ruffin’s close proximity to the audience. Slightly out of light and in front of the stage breaking the fourth wall, there was this gentle hand Kirk placed on Ruffin’s back as she supported his layout. Their shadows grooved near the wings, and we were delighted with their cheekbones as they entertained the possibilities of enjoying one another with elongated arms and tender partner placements. It was satisfying to see Ruffin moving in confidence across the floor, contracting and releasing his muscles as the song peaked, proud that he shot his shot with his love interest and was victorious in winning the heart of Kirk, who we assumed was out of his league.
With the entire performance guided mostly by the melodic soundtrack of D’Angelo & The Vanguard, “An Untitled Love” felt like an invitation to take time by our own lapels. Sonically, we were gently elevated, illustrated most clearly in the scene when the entire A.I.M by Kyle Abraham company floated in a sedative state across the space that resembled an evening sky.
“This piece was a pivotal moment in the performance,” said dancer Catherine Kirk in the human-centered and heartfelt post show discussion led by esteemed dance artist Princess Mhoon Cooper. For me, this scene was a moment for us to collectively enjoy one another, for the dancers/cast to further explore their attraction and for the audience to consider another tempo for their entertainment and pleasure. Like connecting the constellations in a Nairobi night sky, each star had a purpose as they gently expanded into the atmosphere. It was nourishing to watch the moment simply unfold.
“An Untitled Love” gave us all the ‘90s rom com vibes, with characters both distinct and diverse. It carried the humor of “Martin,” the frankness of “Love Jones” and the sexiness of “Poetic Justice.” Interacting with a magenta-toned plastic couch, a palm tree and a red backdrop, we witnessed the gestural energies of a social gathering, flirty eyes, caresses of the hands and upright postures that screamed, “I’m interested and available.” It was storytelling at its finest, giving us a dance floor of subtle flair, rond de jambes, booty pops and dolphin dives—equal parts understated and in your face. With a deep exhale and also a groove, the piece is reminiscent of how one moves when no one is watching: private, personal and true. A celebration indeed of all our key ingredients, lightly sprinkled on the rotating back screen. In between organic leg extensions, athletic floor combinations and good vibes I took note of the words SINGLE, EPMD, SPREAD LOVE, FURIOUS, FANTASTIC and FEARLESS alongside sketches of djembe drums, record players and crowns designed by visual artist Joe Buckingham. Yes indeed, love and Black love especially are all of these things, it’s a love to be spread and also a feeling to cherish.