Review: Kyle Abraham’s Out There ‘Requiem,’ With Nods to Mozart

Among the best known facts about Mozart’s Requiem in D minor is that the composer died before finishing it. Over the centuries, completions have accrued. The music for Kyle Abraham’s dance “Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth” isn’t one of them.

You do hear snatches of Mozart’s Requiem throughout the work, which had its New York premiere at the Rose Theater on Thursday, when Abraham’s wonderful company, A.I.M, presented it as part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City series. But the innovative electronic music producer Jlin is in charge of the music, and she often remixes it beyond recognition.

This is nowhere near as simple (or as fun) as putting a groove under Mozart, in the manner of the disco remake “A Fifth of Beethoven.” Sometimes Jlin gives the Requiem some bottom, some subterranean, theater-buzzing bass. More frequently, she chops it up and makes it stutter or shift into reverse. For long sections, Mozart recedes entirely, replaced by Jlin’s own fantastically polyrhythmic percussive imaginings.

Abraham’s work doesn’t look like a traditional Requiem either. Dan Scully’s lighting and scenic design are futuristic chic, an ever-changing light show of neon bars and circles of illumination — now red, now turquoise, now Easter purple. An oculus high on the rear wall bubbles with lava-lamp ooze.

The costumes, by Giles Deacon, are silky white smock-shirt suits, with ruffs and ruffles. Most of the 10 dancers wear skirts, some stiff as tutus, and they accessorize with poofs and protuberances somewhat reminiscent of Rei Kawakubo’s designs for Merce Cunningham’s “Scenario.” Their faces, difficult to see in the dim light, are made up with more masking color around the eyes.

A.I.M dancers in “Requiem,” at the Rose Theater.Credit…Erin Baiano

Deacon also designed the costumes for “The Runaway,” Abraham’s 2018 hit for New York City Ballet. Like “The Runaway” — and unlike Abraham’s recent, intimate and sitcom-like “An Untitled Love” — this “Requiem” is conceived on a grand, opera-house scale and seems both to be struggling with and reveling in the crossover between ballet and ballroom vogue.

In this sense, Abraham is well matched with Mozart and Jlin. Tensions in Abraham’s style — between fluidity and sharpness, arcing and glitching, line and brokenness — are productively heightened by the score. The work is shot through with beautiful skeins of motion, with group, duo and solo sections of exciting virtuosity that earn whoops of appreciation. Alongside the company’s usual wizards, the new dancer Dymon Samara is a standout.

But Jlin doesn’t give Abraham much help with coherence and structure, never his strong suits. From the start and all the way through, dancers collapse, convulse and quickly rise so frequently that it seems this sequence of motions is contagious, although the repetition doesn’t gain meaning or emotional resonance. Cast members catch and cradle one another, dance for one another in the center of circles, usually supportively but once in stylized combat. At another point, they mock courtly attitudes and clap sarcastically, hinting at an having attitude toward performance. (Here, Jlin samples an evil laugh.) But the attitude or point of view is generally mushy and meandering, even when it’s disarmingly playful, with dancers nuzzling faces.

Is Abraham’s “Requiem” really a requiem at all? It’s more melancholy than mournful, and it lacks days-of-wrath religious terror or any equivalent stakes. I heard Mozart’s tender “Lacrimosa” but, disappointingly and perhaps tellingly, not his menacing and driving “Confutatis.”

And if it’s not a requiem, what is it? When a dancer in the wings reaches for a colleague onstage, you can read it as a beckoning from the other side. Or from the future? Near the end, as Jlin makes a bit of Mozart sound like it’s echoing in outer space, images of birth are projected onto the oculus like a vision through a porthole. But this “Requiem” isn’t clearsighted enough to be science fiction. The spaceship is stylish, but there’s no fire this time.

“Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth”

Through Saturday at Rose Theater;

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